October 9, 2013

Editorial: Sales tax paints pretty picture


---- — If you think it’s no big deal that Clinton County has collected almost $3.2 million in sales tax over what was expected the first three quarters of this year, you haven’t spent much time deliberating over government finances.

And, if you think the sales-tax revenue is intentionally underestimated to make budgeters look good when the amount beats projections, you’ve overlooked how eager governments are to make tax rates lean and stay under the state-imposed tax cap.

No, the $25,057,047 collected through September is real, and it is welcome news.

Nor is it just a number. If you consider where that revenue has to come from if not from the sales tax, you’ll conclude there is but one source: local residents.

We locals would have to make up that amount in taxes and fees — mostly from the dreaded property tax. Governments ages ago figured out that the best way to collect money was to get it from people who could afford it — presumably from people who could afford to own property. They have yet to institute a fairer and more appealing way to raise their capital.

In fact, if the sales tax didn’t exist in Clinton County, and the $25,057,047 had to come from the property tax, the tax levy would be that much higher.

Not only that, the sales tax is drawn from what you might call a voluntary assessment. People want products and services and are willing to pay for them, including an 8 percent sales tax.

Much of that money comes from out of the area. The sales tax enables outsiders to help us out with our expenses.

Town of Plattsburgh Legislator Sara Rowden, chair of the legislature’s Finance Committee, cited specifically Canadian shoppers and visitors as a primary source of our revenue. They buy merchandise, eat in our restaurants and sleep in our hotels, all the while relieving our property tax. What an attractive arrangement.

Clinton and Essex counties have a “bed tax,” whereby each occupant of an overnight room pays a small assessment to the county, added on to the room charge. It’s scarcely noticed by the customer, but it quickly adds up to a godsend for local taxpayers. Franklin County is eyeing an occupancy tax, as well, which would be a smart move.

Rowden also cited the robust activity of local manufacturers Nova Bus and Bombardier, which continue to win lucrative contracts for buses and rail cars, respectively. That enables employees to spend money locally.

And a healthy sales-tax picture is a reflection of bustle in the local economy. There are still not enough jobs and stability, but, if sales tax is up, good things are going on. The sales-tax collections are up more than $1 million from last year, at this stage.

We have good cause to be optimistic about where we’re headed.