Think about all new fees, taxes before you vote

This Tuesday’s election in Clovis is not one registered voters should miss. Too many tax dollars are at stake, plus the makeup of the next city commission and the mayor will be decided.
Besides deciding contested and unopposed races, city voters also will determine whether to impose a new quarter-percent gross-receipts tax on goods anyone buys within city limits. The lowball estimate is it would raise $1.2 million more in GRT revenues — the same amount backers claimed back in 2002 when voters soundly rejected the measure. We join some readers in wondering how that can be with all the economic development here since then — and with no tax mill increase.
Passage of the quarter-percent hike means for every $100 you spend to buy goods in Clovis, you’ll pay 25 cents more. For a $10,000 diamond ring, that is an extra $25.
The dollars are for worthy projects — Clovis’ share for the Ute Pipeline Project, a wastewater treatment plant expansion, police and fire equipment replacement, $600,000 a year in residential street upgrades, and drainage. And it would free up revenue to use in the general fund for city workers’ wages.
But as we noted back in 2002, there always are a bevy of worthy projects when officials want new tax dollars to spend.
If you plan to vote Tuesday, don’t forget that Clovis’ new GRT tax would not be the only new tax or fee hike we will face, thanks to recent legislative action in Santa Fe. Here are a few tidbits to weigh as you decide:
First, counties can raise their GRT levy by one-sixteenth percent, without prior voter approval. The law also deletes prior voter OK for another one-eighth of the old tax limit. If both new options were added, the maximum county GRT share would be seven-sixteenths. Taxpayers could not appeal new taxes until after county commissioner approval.
On Friday, Curry County Manager Geneva Cooper said these new options will be discussed for the first time at Tuesday’s county commission meeting. Together, the one-eighth and one-sixteenth increases would raise about $1.275 million more revenue, she said. That would pay the $1.2 million more Curry County expects to pay to house prisoners elsewhere since the jail is overflowing. If the GRT increase won’t fly, the only other option besides severe budget (read “services”) cuts would be to raise property taxes.
A half-cent state tax jump starts Jan. 1 on most goods and services bought within New Mexico’s municipalities. The legislative rationale is this is a “tax neutral” measure because it replaces “food tax” monies, outlawed Dec. 31 by the same bill, along with the GRT on some medical services (few Curry medical staff will benefit this time).
Many government watchers don’t buy the “tax neutral” claim, and that includes us. Most pretax grocery bills are less than what people pay, pretax, on non-grocery items and other goods we use in our daily business and personal lives. Think about the cost of buying food versus vehicles, other farm and dairy equipment and supplies, home-building and -improvement supplies, skin products, baby diapers, clothes and so forth.
Then there is the occupied bed tax. It will hit people with a family member in a nursing home or other type of care facility. This tax costs $8.82 more a day per occupied bed, or $3,219 more a year.
Clovis City Manager Ray Mondragon notes the city has no control over the Legislature and Gov. Bill Richardson passing new taxes, but it has many needs. He’s right. But we worry that so many new taxes and fees will hurt the boom we’re in, particularly as the retail sector is just taking off. Will people keep shopping more in Clovis rather than head back to the bigger cities of Lubbock or Amarillo or Albuquerque?
We will leave you to decide your vote. We don’t applaud all the new taxes, though we do see value in the quarter-percent tax’s projects.
But Clovis voters are savvy. They know a new tax often is espoused by any government during a fiscal crisis as “salvation” with little serious thought given to cutting costs first. Lumping together several good-deed and critical-need programs into one request is a common ploy aimed at strumming the heartstrings of special interest and family groups affected by the tax in question. Those supporters then line up more friends and family and the opposition has little chance.
The question city voters must answer in the privacy of their voting booths Tuesday is whether they and others can afford all these projects, given all the other taxes and fees that are coming.
We’ll know the answer Tuesday night.