The Commerce News
October 6, 1999
I'd Rather Pay
Taxes One Cent
At A Time
We're going to have a referendum on a one-cent
sales tax in November. The tax could raise $35 million to provide
water and sewer lines and to build and maintain roads, bridges
and sidewalks. A small portion would go to fund recreation and
a fire training facility.
The passage of a referendum on the special purpose local option
sales tax, or SPLOST, faces an uphill battle. People have grown
cynical about government and taxes. Say "tax," and
a conservative America has heart palpitations.
People have lost the concept that government services are essential.
They expect criminals to be caught, tried and jailed, roads to
be built and maintained, public buildings to be adequate, drinking
water to be safe and plentiful ... People expect all of the amenities
to which they are accustomed, but they no longer accept that
it takes taxes to provide those services.
Americans have embraced the idea that all government is inefficient
and unnecessary, even as they demand government solutions to
every problem. The same citizen who demands smaller government
wants a cop at his door 60 seconds after he reports a prowler.
The citizen who protests his school tax bill wants metal detectors
at every school door.
Jackson County has a water system about a decade old, financed
entirely by about nine years of sales tax revenue. Those lines
loop all over the county, but they don't reach everyone. Every
week, people come to the county water office seeking water because
their wells are dry or contaminated. They demand water. But they
didn't vote for the SPLOST last July. They are not interested
in hearing that the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority
is out of money. Don't talk to them about costs. They just want
water lines run to the house. Today.
Commerce needs more capacity at its sewer plant and water plant.
Both projects cost millions; both must be done and will be done.
The voters may refuse to support a sales tax that would provide
much of the money for those essential projects. Then they'll
scream when water or sewer rates are increased to cover the work.
Nothing irritates people like poor roads. People want them paved
or resurfaced as though a smooth ride is a constitutional right.
Every single road we have was built with tax money. Guess where
the funds must come from to maintain them? Taxes. Those roads
the public demanded be paved for the past 20 years must be maintained.
Taxes built the infrastructure of this county, state and nation
and they will build any new roads, bridges or water and sewer
systems or courthouse annex. The only question is what kind of
The sales tax is the least objectionable form. It is applied
equally to everyone based on spending, and probably 40 percent
of the tax will be paid by people who don't even live here. Of
course, you pay Athens-Clarke taxes when you shop there or Banks
County taxes when you shop there, and you're going to pay them
whether our SPLOST passes or not. It all works out. If we don't
fund these things with a sales tax, the other tax alternatives
are much worse.
As for me, I'd much rather fund them with a sales tax and get
a little help from the tourists and the Department of Transportation.
The Commerce News
October 6, 1999
The Sept. 20 issue of Newsweek
was devoted to "e-Life, How the Internet is Changing America."
This special report heralded the news that America had "turned
the corner" and "there's no turning back." Being
a "cyber-holic," I couldn't agree more, but what caught
my eye was a question they asked in one of the articles. "Was
there a single moment when we turned the corner?"
The author was asking a rhetorical question about whether or
nor we could pinpoint any single event that would mark the turning
point when people agreed to adopt an institution, in this case,
the Internet. You may ask, what's the difference when the exact
amount occurred? We transition from one practice to another,
from one technology to another, from one way of doing a certain
thing to another, and hardly ever notice the switch. But we as
a civilization do seem to need these points in time to mark changes.
It seems to be a universal phenomenon, whether we are talking
about a new technology, or a change in a cultural or societal
practice. We want to mark events. It helps us to place ourselves
in this linear time frame that our civilization uses to chart
advancement and change.
Mark Beardsley and Art Greenberg talked about it in their columns
last week -- the changing of the seasons. We all mark our calendars
for that event. We mark anniversaries and birthdays. We have
a grand event coming up in just a few months. We will mark a
new millennium. And if that is not enough, we created a virus
(the Y2K) specially for the occasion, just to help celebrate
and make sure our lives were impacted enough so we would definitely
know that we had "turned that corner."
But how often do we turn these corners in our daily lives without
even giving them a second thought? When did I turn into a "responsible
citizen"? When did I "grow up" (if indeed I have,
yet)? When did I become the mature adult, or the authority figure,
or assume the role of parent? We never seem to stop and look
at these passages and note when we turn these corners, yet we
are keenly aware at some point later on, that we have. But as
it is happening, we never seem to see it. That is the nature
of these "passages" and these "changes."
I wish we could look at them and admire them as we do the seasons.
But while we are players, actively immersed in the process of
change, it is difficult to stand back and say, "Hey, I am
part of a new wave of how we do things in this world."
And so it has been and still is with electronic communication.
It's been such a long stretch, but such a short time from the
advent of the "talking wires," as the Native Americans
used to call the telegraph lines in the last century, to the
wireless, and then to the computer and all it means to us today.
The people at Newsweek summed it up best when they wrote about
"e-life" -- this electronic life that we now live in.
Where once it was a novelty, it "isn't just about the future
-- it's about the here and now The day is approaching when no
one will describe the digital, Net-based, computer-connected
gestalt with such a transitory term (e-life). We'll just call
When did we change?
Pat Hood Greenberg is a native of Commerce
and a program analyst for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.