June 27, 2013

Editorial: Again, spare the land tax


---- — We have always supported local counties’ efforts to increase their share of the revenue from the state sales tax.

That’s not because we like to see customers have to pay more but because we hate to see property owners stuck with still more of the bills for the services we all take for granted.

We again applaud a sales-tax increase, this time by Essex County. The Board of Supervisors asked the State Legislature to raise the county’s take from the tax by one-quarter percent. As it is, the state collects 4 percent, and Essex County gets 3.75. The county wants to increase its collection to 4 percent, as most counties already have done.

The State Legislature approved the request before adjourning for the summer; only Gov. Cuomo’s approval and then the supervisors’ perfunctory formal vote are left for the new rate to take effect. He will either sign it or veto it in the next few days. We assume he will OK it, as it is strictly a home-rule matter, with no effect on the state.

The fact is that there is no good reason to be against the additional tax. It will not put Essex County merchants at a competitive disadvantage. Neighboring counties already impose the full 8 percent on purchases.

And the tax does not interfere with residents’ acquisition of life’s necessities. The tax is not collected on food, for example.

One quarter of a percent on a $10 purchase amounts to 25 cents. That surely is not enough to send someone out the door empty-handed.

And the additional revenue is crucial for the county’s operations. You can argue whether government spends too much, provides too many services and ought to be trimmed. But, as it exists in Essex County right now, government can’t continue to provide all the services that people are used to and expect.

Without the additional sales tax, supervisors will be forced to wring it out once again from that same old quickly-drying-out source: the property owners.

County Manager Daniel Palmer told the board that raising the sales tax by a quarter of a percent would add $2 million to the county’s revenue stream. That would help pay for such public-benefit services as road improvements, jail operations and Medicaid. Those expenses simply cannot be compromised.

The alternative is more increases in the property tax, which every county must avoid. A sales tax is akin to a user tax — contributions are, in a way, voluntary.

As we’ve argued before, a sales tax is the least painful and most all-encompassing way to collect money. Everybody pays, rather than the small percentage of property owners.

You’ll scarcely notice the difference.