Jackson County Opinions...

JULY 17, 2002



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
July 17, 2002

President Bush Has A Terrific
Sense Of Humor
You have to give President George Bush credit for having a sense of humor. His lecturing Wall Street about the need for business ethics is as funny as Bill Clinton addressing the Vatican on sexual immorality.
By all accounts, however, Bush kept a straight face as he promised to do "everything in our power to end the days of cooking the books." That had to be pretty tough, considering the windfall he made in a Texas scheme that was exactly how executives at Enron and WorldCom led their companies to shame and ruin and themselves to further wealth. But Bush didn't get where he is without being able to state the absurd with that deadpan, blank look. More importantly, he didn't get caught.
That's the difference between a good president and a sorry one. Bill Clinton got caught; bad president. George Bush, insulated by his daddy's pals, got away with it; good president. Unfortunately, there are a lot of voters who fail to recognize the difference between greatness and failure, otherwise Bush would have easily carried the popular vote (and Florida) instead of having to rely on a conservative majority on the Supreme Court to get four years in the White House.
Talk about the need to educate the voters.
This president addressing Wall Street about business ethics sounds like something from a “Saturday Night Live” skit and should be accepted in the same face value one might acknowledge a new Jackson County resident’s view that this county should limit growth. No other president has been so willing to sell public policy to the highest bidder. Kenneth Lay (remember that name?) helped Dick Cheney write the country's "energy policy," the outstanding characteristic of which is that major donors to Bush-Cheney don't have to sweat about environmental regulations. Clinton rented out the Lincoln bedroom and the public found that distasteful. Bush sells the right to dictate policy, and his approval rate remains high. That's the difference between buffoonery and leadership. And, it's high comedy.
Fortunately, Bush's sudden quest for corporate ethics has nothing to do with actually doing what's right. The Enron, Arthur Andersen, Xerox, WorldCom, Quest, Bristol-Myers, Aldephis and (name your company) financial scandals are causing the stock market to crumble and Bush and his friends, all of whom own loads of stock the value of which now approximates that of a roll of toilet paper, are beginning to wonder from whence their next latté will come. With an election coming up, some of those sleazy Democrats may try to make political hay over the fact that during the Bush Administration, the stock market has fallen like a dead pigeon.
The president isn’t above stealing a line from his predecessor, who won office with the campaign motto “It’s the economy,” stupid. Bush’s motto is: “It’s the stupid economy.”
Not to worry. Laughter is the best medicine, and the comedian in chief will keep us in stitches. I understand he's preparing position papers to the effect that global warming will be good for the economy because of the new beach-front property it will create. You gotta like him.


Editorial
The Jackson Herald
July 17, 2002

Welcome Toyota/MACI to Jackson County
Jackson County has seen a lot of business growth in the past decade. Because of that, our economic base has become more diversified and local jobs are more plentiful than ever.
This week, a new firm officially announced its plans to locate in Jackson County in one of the largest local industrial development projects to date.
An affiliated company of Toyota Industries Corporation, Michigan Automotive Compressor, Inc., announced plans to build a large manufacturing plant on the former Valentine Farm north of Jefferson. The investment is expected to be in excess of $50 million for the project.
This industry will provide both additional jobs and tax base to the community. Not only that, but it will open up an important development corridor between Hwy. 129 and Hwy. 82 north along Hwy. I-85.
The success of Jackson County’s landing the prestigious firm was a combination of state and local leaders who worked together to lure MACI to the community.
Of course, there is always the issue of how much government has to offer to bring new development to a community. Some nearby states have gone to the extreme to bring in big projects, offering support that does not make much long-term economic sense.
From what we’ve seen of this Jackson County deal, however, that was not the case here. The state has offered a tremendous amount of assistance to the county for the developmental roads and the local governments have also offered modest incentives to the Toyota/MACI project.
But those incentives were less than many previous projects brought to the county and given the long-term growth of this new corridor development, the money being spent today is an investment in future projects beyond just the Toyota/MACI deal.
We believe our local leaders should be commended for their work on this project and for the dividends it will pay in the coming decades.
And to Toyota/MACI, we say “Welcome” to Jackson County. We know it will be a relationship that will help both your firm, and Jackson County, prosper.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
July 17, 2002

Sales tax talks a complex web
Forget, for a moment, the political tensions that currently exist between the Jackson County Board of Commissioners and the various city governments in the county. Even if that relationship were a happy marriage, the current talks over how to split the county’s sales tax money would put a serious strain on the lovefest.
On the surface, the issue is over how to split the money. But there are a lot of underlying issues as well, including what role city and county governments will play in the community.
It’s no secret that government dynamics today are very different than they were a decade ago. County governments now look like many city governments, providing services that once were only found in municipalities.
In theory, House Bill 489 was supposed to have cleared up many of those issues a couple of years ago, but the tensions between county and city governments remain.
In the sales tax issue, the basic question is: What governments provide which services and how should each be compensated?
Initially, the local option sales tax was supposed to be a roll back of property taxes. Indeed, even today it is shown that way on paper. But as a practical matter, the sales tax is just another source of revenue for the governments.
Commissioner Emil Beshara has expressed some doubts about that, however, and argues that a strict legal interpretation of the law would not allow several towns in Jackson County to receive the sales tax. How can a sales tax roll back taxes when a town doesn’t have any other tax, he asks?
It’s a good question, but is likely that the county won’t boot any local town from the process. (Of course, this is being written before Tuesday’s meeting so the events could change at that time.)
The real question is, what is a fair way to distribute the sales taxes?
In the past, it has been done on a straight population basis. That is an easy way to do it and the size of a community does somewhat reflect the needs of its government.
But straight population isn’t totally fair. For one thing, some towns in Jackson County, such as Nicholson, are getting a lot of sales tax dollars, but not spending them to help its citizens. They have, in other words, more money than need.
Nor does the straight population basis measure the complex services or situations which can exist in a community. Jefferson leaders, for example, make the argument that because there are a number of county facilities in the town, more demand is being put on its services, thus earning it more in sales tax dollars than reflected by the simple population number.
Beshara has argued for distribution based on tax digests, saying that basis is more reflective of the community demands and needs. But even that could be flawed. A small town, for example, might annex a large industry just to get the sales tax dollars even though its population and actual service needs might be small.
There is no perfect method for deciding how to distribute the sales tax money. It is more art than science and in the end, mostly a political issue.
But there is some merit to the idea of not having just one single basis from which to determine the sales tax formula. Distortions can, and do, exist in any single basis you choose.
It would be useful to consider a method that mixes two or more methods in the formula so that the result is not dependent on any one variable.
Since population and tax digest are the two methods getting the most attention, why not use the average of those two methods? By balancing population and digest, the resulting formula would probably be more reflective of each community. It might not be 100 percent fair, but it would come closer than any other method I’ve seen.
The following is a breakdown on how the money would be split if it were an average of digest and population:

Arcade 2.65%
Braselton 1.80%
Commerce 11.20%
Hoschton 2.42%
Jefferson 13.41%
Maysville 1.30%
Nicholson 1.73%
Pendergrass .82%
Talmo .78%
County 63.92%

The sales tax situation is complex and the above is just one of dozens of possible plans.
And like so many things in politics, fairness is in the eye of the one who holds the dollars.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
July 17, 2002

It’s Up To Voters To Learn About Candidates
It happens every other year, though it seems like every year. The election season, that is, the months of hyperbole if not outright deception when no moment is free of the onslaught of those who seek our votes. Yes, sadly, this is an election year, and the Aug. 20 primary elections are just a month away.
The airwaves are filling with candidates' pleas, as are the pages of newspapers. Roadsides will soon sprout their ugly growth of campaign signs. The assault on our sensibilities has begun. From the county government to the U.S. Senate, there are openings or potential openings and the scramble is on to fill them.
Voters will have to carefully filter everything they hear and see in the next month, for many a candidate will pervert his or her opponent's message, record or affiliations. The candidate whose image you see in a school classroom probably hasn't been in an elementary school since the last time he or she sought office and the candidate who promises you lower taxes may well have paid his late or not at all.
Yet, for all the salesmanship and deception, there is adequate information by which a voter can make an intelligent decision. Those with discerning ears and eyes can separate the candidate with thoughtful views from the one who proposes slogans instead of answers to complex issues. A diligent voter pays more attention to what a candidate has done than either what he says he will do or claims his opponent has done. Many incumbents' voting records are available online from nonpartisan sources, and the Internet makes it possible to find pre-election news accounts of the actions and comments of many candidates.
It is up to each voter to make the effort to learn about the candidates, most of whom would prefer that we just swallow their campaign materials without thought. As voters, our responsibility is to make the effort to discern which candidates best represent what we want and need in any particular office instead of relying on 30-second video and sound bites, inflammatory newspaper advertisements or signs on the public right of way. Voting is easy; voting responsibly requires more effort. But if citizens want the good government for which they always clamor, they must take the time to see beyond the campaign rhetoric. We've got 34 days to do our homework for the Aug. 20 primaries.


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