I can’t decide about the half-cent sales tax. I have heard many facts and opinions in all directions from people I respect. I’ve reviewed the list of projects. Mailers and other advertisements are not influencing me.
A mentor once told me to never compromise on my principles, but that there are fewer things worthy of being principles than I think.
My academic colleagues and I are discussing developing a new graduate program that we might call “Sustainable Community Leadership.” This sales-tax vote is an excellent case study for this.
The vast majority of projects listed for funding will address unbridled growth, which is not environmentally, socially or even economically sustainable.
Tapping all residents and visitors with a sales tax to pay for that growth is not a healthy way to nurture community. And, we’ve certainly heard and seen plenty of the failures of county leadership with past funding initiatives.
So, on principle, we should just vote no and stop the growth insanity, and do the urgent and difficult work of establishing more reasonable conservation and smart-growth goals for this county.
But that will be long and messy work, hopefully done by new leaders elected in the next election cycle.
In the meantime, how shall we address our road congestion and flooding and human-waste-management issues, which are inevitable when we pack this many people so densely into a swampy space?
I’m willing to share my pros and cons — many offered by those I’ve consulted, and others based on my own principles — as a candid way of grappling with the complexity of this decision:
• I do not support regressive taxes because they disproportionately impact those who are least able to pay.
• I do like the idea of having tourists help shoulder the burden for the infrastructure that supports their visit.
• One of the road-widening projects on the list will happen adjacent to my backyard. Literally. It will reduce my home’s value and my quality of life. For that selfish, “NIMBY” reason alone, I want to vote no.
• But I also know we need to address serious flooding and water-quality issues throughout the county, and that doing so ultimately improves the quality of life for all of us.
• I know this revenue source could also be used to leverage more funding from state and federal sources for deferred and future infrastructure projects.
• But, I do not support growth for the sake of growth.
• I think developers should have to contribute more to alleviate the environmental and social impacts their developments make, and not just stick it to the communities to offset that.
Clearly, the impact fees and property taxes that the county collects from these developments do not fully offset their impacts, but we are constrained by political decisions made in an earlier time.
We should elect and communicate our views to leaders who will hold developers to higher planning standards such as low-impact development.
• I wish I could just pay for the projects I like and not the ones I’m less supportive of, but that’s not how it works. I’m just a taxpayer trusting (or not) the elected officials and career staff to use our dollars wisely. Given what we’ve seen in the past, that leaves me feeling uneasy.
I still haven’t decided, but I will. The one principle I won’t compromise is the essential role of voting.
This decision is actually incredibly important both in principle and practice. It is worth having long, difficult conversations with each other, which is what it means to be an engaged citizen.
— Anderson, Ph.D., is professor and chair of environmental science and studies at Stetson University.