Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mayor Coody is Right -- and Wrong

The Fayetteville City Council meeting last night dealt with some important issues, but the level of thinking required to solve them was not immediately evident. The revenue problems faced by the city government have been a while in the making, and that applies to both general revenues and other sources of income.

Mayor Dan Coody is quite right when he says of the Chamber's beloved sales tax engine, "The city of Fayetteville relies on the most regressive tax we have too heavily." Coody is partly at fault for that. He commanded the effort to "educate" the voters about the need for a sales tax to repair and improve our city streets, but he opposed the road impact fees on developers who are creating sprawl and traffic congestion. If the city had realistic impact fees, we wouldn't have to rely on "the most regressive tax we have too heavily."

The Mayor is right to promote an increase in property taxes to improve the mix of the city's revenue stream, but he has blundered tactically in addressing the need to trim fat from the city budget and in blaming the City Council for not supporting past proposals to increase the property tax. This is not the time to pick a fight about who was right; it is time to fix the problem.

Flat, across-the-board budget cuts might balance the budget, but the Mayor is wrong to rely on that quick but thoughtless approach. Some departments have more or less fat, some provide more or less important services, and some programs are both unjust and inefficient. The Mayor needs to be less defensive and to see this budget crisis as an excellent time to right the wrongs and put our revenues where they are most needed.

Mayor Coody is also right when he notes that most people think Fayetteville has high taxes when the truth is Fayetteville is the lowest-taxing city in Northwest Arkansas. He is wrong if he doesn't think that is partly his fault for buying into the Chamber's whining about how "unfriendly" Fayetteville is to business. Everytime the city considers making business and industry pay their fair share, whether it is impact fees or water rates, we hear that tired old wailing, and the Mayor and his staff almost always cave in to the Chamber's demands, leading everyone to conclude that they must have been right. That's why some of the Aldermen are also right when they say residents are not enthusiastic about a tax increase, because they know the little guy is toting the freight for the privileged.

Let's hope that Mayor Coody and the City Council will seize this opportunity and work together to reduce wasteful spending and eliminate special benefits for special interests as well as to structure a tax and fee regime that is much more fair to all citizens of Fayetteville.

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