A Letter from Alex Muromcew and Mark Barron
One question on this November’s ballot is a proposed 17% increase in the sales tax we pay. A look at revenue over the last decade:....
Town of Jackson Revenue $13.3 million $22.3 million
Teton County Revenue $27.4 million $45.6 million
Combined Sales Lodging Tax $19.6 million $37 million
Property Tax Revenue $6.8 million $12.2 million
Do we have a revenue problem or a spending problem? And if the pandemic is our reason for looking at more revenue, why impose a long-term prescription for a short-term problem?
Sales tax is the most regressive tax we pay, impacting low-wage earners proportionally more. Proponents of the tax increase say it’s only a penny, just 1 cent. The fact is that on every purchase that’s subject to sales tax, you will pay 17% more tax. The kids’ school clothes, hats, snow boots, coats, pants, skis & gear? Seasonal snow tires or that vehicle you’ve been saving for? Replacing the washer & dryer? You’ll pay 17% more sales tax on all these necessary purchases. And your sales tax burden already increases every time the price of goods increases.
If passed, it has been reported that this tax increase would lead to roughly $16 million more in revenues to local government every year. A look at the increase in town and county revenue above shows that local government shows strong growth in revenue by anyone’s standards. The fairly recent purchase of a large office development across the street from town hall may indicate the desire to grow government even more. $16 million more annual revenue may be just what they need! More government buildings means more offices means more government staff.
By law, general sales tax revenue may not be earmarked -- not for affordable housing, land conservation, health & human services, transportation or any preferences. Despite optimistic comments from elected officials and others, this sales tax increase will be spent by town and county officials just as all general sales tax is spent.
On the other hand, the 1% SPET, by state statute, is earmarked for specific projects like affordable housing, transit, schools and other institutional uses. The 2% lodging tax, by state statute, is earmarked 40% to town and county general fund and impacts of tourism, like JH Fire/EMS ambulance service, pathways operations, START operations, Parks & Recs restroom services; and 60% of the visitor paid lodging is earmarked for tourism promotion.
We acknowledge that the pandemic has impacted Town and County revenue and that reflects the drop in taxable sales from those businesses that collect and pay sales tax here. But is town/county government any more impacted than your own paycheck or business revenues?
Tightening the budget belt isn’t easy. Sales tax revenues during the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-2012 declined by some 24%. Many people lost good jobs and many lost their homes and local businesses. Rental vacancies popped up all over town. Town and County each reduced spending by 23 – 25% by making some tough choices. One choice was easy – we did not increase the tax burden on citizens who were already hurting through that terrible financial recession.
By the way, down the street in Lincoln County, the sales tax is 5% and in Sublette and Park Counties it is 4%. Over the pass in Teton County, ID it is 6% and in Montana it’s 4%. And if the sales tax increase passes, in Teton Village you will pay 9% sales tax on purchases.
When you vote for the candidates of your choice this November 3rd, remember that the 1 penny sales tax ballot question means a 17% increase in what you will pay for sales tax. Many of us will vote NO and we hope you’ll join us. After all, it is your money!
- Alex Muromcew & Mark Barron