In March 26 IssueBy Kathy Foley, Columnist
For the last two weeks I've been writing about the war on the middle class taking place all over the country. We no longer have to look to places like Indiana, Wisconsin or Ohio to see the battles being waged against low and middle income Americans. It is taking place right here and right now. The Russell County Fiscal Court will be voting at a Special Called Meeting at 6:00 pm on March 31st to raise the Occupational License Tax 300 percent. That is a whopping increase. The current tax rate is .25 percent and they are proposing to raise it to a full 1 percent.
Apparently, this is necessary because our county is in dire straits. We are facing a budget shortfall of $1.254 million. (The reason for this shortfall itself is a good subject for a future column.) According to County Treasurer, Kathy Tupman, this figure doesn't include many unforeseen expenses like the rise in fuel costs or replacing county equipment when necessary, so it is practically certain that the deficit will be even greater than predicted. So, those of us who earn a living, no matter how meager it is-and most of us in Russell County do earn meager livings; the most recent data says the median income in Russell County is $22,042 annually-will have to ante up more money for the "privilege" of working in Russell County.
HERE'S THE KICKER: THE WEALTHIEST AMONG US WON'T HAVE TO PAY AS MUCH AS THE REST OF US. This is not being talked about much. There is a lot of hullabaloo about the "Sunset Clause" which will cause the Fiscal Court to re-visit this tax increase in two years and that's just great. But, it's a non-issue. How many of you really believe that in two years they are going to vote in favor of lowering it 300 percent back to .25 percent? If they do then you'd better go buy some ice skates because a hot place will have just frozen over. The real issue that no one is talking about is Section 4, The Alternative Tax. This provision allows self-employed individuals and corporations to pay a flat sum of $800 instead of the 1 percent that the rest of us will have to pay. So, let's say you are a successful attorney here in Russell County and you make $200,000 (or more likely much more), instead of paying 1 percent or $2,000, you get to pay only $800. Or, let's say you are the owner of a very successful company employing many workers at say, $7 or $8 per hour-your company is so successful, largely because you have the "privilege" of locating it in Russell County, Kentucky where you have access to workers you can exploit by paying them practically slave-wages with no benefits, thereby reaping great profits which allow you to own a private jet and live large-you only have to pay $800, which is probably only one hundredth of one percent. Of course, no one really knows what percentage a person like that will pay because that very same provision waives the requirement for them to show their tax return revealing what they make. But make no mistake; the employees of that company will pay their full 1 percent or $166.40 if you are making $8 per hour.
Once again, the low and middle income earners are being asked to shoulder the largest burden, while the ones who are most able to afford it get the break. They will tell us that the reason for this provision is to encourage industry to move to Russell County. That is a crock. In this economic climate industry is not flocking to Russell County or any other county and is not likely to be doing so in the next two years, so why couldn't they eliminate this provision and re-visit it in two years? Additionally, if we are so desperately in need of funds to correct this budget shortfall, then why are we giving anyone a break?-Especially since estimates are that the increase to 1 percent won't even cover the entire deficit? Shouldn't we, more than ever, require EVERYONE to shoulder the same burden?
I have spoken to each magistrate, and every one of them made reference to this provision as a "cap", which it is, even though it is not worded that way in the ordinance. Oddly, every one of them indicated to me that they are in agreement that this provision is not fair and that all individuals should have to pay the same percentage-that there should be no break for those most fortunate among us. However, they all seemed somewhat resigned that "this is the way it has always been," as if some indefinable power, other than themselves, was forcing it to be this way. My magistrate, Larry Holt, promised me that if he could get at least one other magistrate to stand with him, he would fight to have this provision eliminated. I informed him that that should be easy since they all agree that it is wrong. The big question, of course, is whether they are just telling me what I want to hear, or are they telling me the truth? We'll soon find out.
Fellow citizens of Russell County, I urge you not to be silent on this issue! I don't want to see my taxes go up any more than the rest of you. I would rather that this particular tax be abolished altogether. Unfortunately, it seems apparent that not only is it not going to be abolished; it is going to go up. I don't know about you, but it will be a whole lot easier to swallow if I know that everyone is doing their part and paying the same percentage. Call your magistrate and let him know how you feel and if you aren't sure who your magistrate is, call them all. Here are the numbers:
We still have time, folks, but not much. They will argue that the State is requiring that something be done by April 1, so they can't change this provision because it will require them to start the process all over again and they don't have time. I'm not buying what they are selling. If that was the case, then they knew about this deadline a long time ago and why did they wait so late that it is now such an emergency? Maybe just so they could ram something through and use the deadline as an excuse. Regardless, I have absolutely no doubt that there is an alternative other than doing something, even if it is the wrong thing, just because of some deadline.
Don't just call your magistrate-come to the meeting on Thursday, March 31st at 6:00 pm. If they tell you, like they did me, that they are against this provision, then hold their feet to the fire, show up and let them know that you are watching and taking note of their actions-words are cheap. The unfair burden of this tax is not.