John R. Smith: Palm Beach County Progressives Never Stop Trying to Take Our Money
Palm Beach County leftists keep using incrementalism to impose taxes, fees, and levies. The “progressives” in our county never stop, and they are never satisfied. Their method of increasing governmental power is not to go top speed all at once, with no disruptive or sweeping changes. Instead, they take small steps, phrased as “common sense” solutions, often assuring taxpayers that each step of more taxes will be the last, even as their next step is on the back burner.
Once they get their foot in the door, the taxers are already planning to push for more.
Incrementalism is a powerful tool in government; it refers to a decision-making and policy-making approach where taxes, regulations, and changes are made gradually, by degrees. Instead of adopting comprehensive or radical changes, incrementalism involves making small, incremental adjustments to existing tax policies, regulatory procedures, and sometimes new taxes.
We have already seen incrementalism as a favorite tool of the big government crowd. Recall: our federal income tax was only 7% when it first began, and only the richest people had to pay. Down the road, the top rate incrementally reached 94%. Then it dropped to 91% until the 1964 tax cuts. The Feds reduced the top rate substantially since then, but only because today, half the population pays income tax.
Smokers used to pay only pennies of tax on a pack of cigarettes, but now some states charge taxes as high as $6 or $7. Government incrementalists are masters at overcoming the initial resistance by keeping a new tax low and only targeting the “right” people, i.e., those who “deserve” to pay. But, over time, the tax rate gets increased, and ropes in more and more people.
Palm Beach County has been guilty of practicing incrementalism to fund community projects that may or may not be worthy causes. Our combined state and county sales tax rate has crept up over the years to 7%, and our gas tax is the highest in Florida. But the best incremental example is the “need” to increase the county bed tax, also called the Tourist Development Tax.
The government’s strategy for selling this tax to the public is, “What’s unfair about a penny increase? No one’s going to notice one penny on a dollar.” Of course, when the years fly by, and the tax creeps up 1 percent at a time, it morphs into a huge burden.
It’s like the middle-aged guy losing his hair, one hair at a time. One morning, he wakes up and looks in the mirror, and he’s bald!
What no one is talking about, because tourism special interests pooh-pooh it, is the insidious history of the bed tax. There is no better example of a tax designed to get a foot in the door — and pry it wide open as the years pass — than this tax. It was originally sold to the public as a reasonable “heads-in-beds” tax of 1% on each night’s hotel/motel lodging, paid mostly by tourists.
It started out in 1982 at 1%. The tax increased to 2 percent in 1984, on the promise that it wouldn’t dissuade tourists from coming. It went to 3 percent in 1989, again sold on the basis that tourists would pay for most of it, although from the start, limited-term condo renters also paid the tax. In 1994, it was jacked up again, to 4 percent, then to 5 percent in 2006, paid by “every person who rents, leases or lets” living quarters for six months or less in any accommodation. It is now at 6%. It’s an add-on tax and must be paid in addition to state sales tax.
At some point, taxpayers must stand up and say, “This far and no farther” to incrementalism, which is all about greed creeping into public funding. It’s about crossing the line from reasonable taxes to “OK, people, this has got to stop.” We are not a forever-flowing fountain of tax money.
Other stories you may want to read:
- John R. Smith: PBC Officials Should Stop Being Tyrants & Learn Federalism - February 16, 2024
- John R. Smith: Taxes Are Choking Palm Beach County Taxpayers - February 6, 2024
- John R. Smith: The Nasty Plague of Cancel Culture - December 14, 2023