Guest Series: Council President Stephen Joost

November 17, 2011 15 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville consistently offers the opportunity for our readers to absorb the editorials, personal accounts, and vocal opinions of some of the key players in the decision making process of our community. This week, City Council President Stephen Joost.

One of the most interesting things I find about being a councilman is that the local politics can be very different from the national politics on similar issues.  Take for example, the issue of taxes and fees; During the Peyton administration, then-Governor Crist and the Legislature cut local property taxes, forcing the mayor to cut the budget and raise certain fees and taxes to help fund parks, early literacy programs, river clean up,etc.  For many people in our community, these are “vital” programs.  For others, it’s just viewed as more unnecessary government.  

Normally, on the national level, the Democrats would support what is viewed as keeping “vital” programs and the Republicans would oppose unnecessary programs and be against the fees and taxes that supported those particular programs.  However, because much of Jacksonville’s tax base comes from property taxes, the dynamic of the debate was totally different on the local level vs. the national level.  Home ownership across all spectrums, races, creeds,etc. was at record levels in 2007 when the vote took place.  Therefore, unlike on the national scene where almost half the people pay no federal income tax, everybody has “skin” in the game when it comes to the issue of local taxes and fees.  During the debates, there was no coalition of Republicans vs. Democrats.  Many of the Democrats opposed the fees and taxes and many of the Republicans ended up supporting them.  The debate was more focused on the cost vs. benefits for our community.  The debate was totally different than what you would find on the national level.

In this world of Poor vs. Rich, it’s heresy to say that everybody should pay taxes.  However, that is what I believe.  First and foremost, Joe Biden had it right when he said it is patriotic to pay taxes.  The Republicans jumped all over him when he made that statement.  He should have held his ground.  He didn’t say it was patriotic to waste money.  To think that almost half the people in this country pay no federal income tax and enjoy the privilege of living in the freest, most successful country in the world, and then have no responsibility to help pay for the freedoms we as a nation enjoy, is simply wrong.  Yes, freedom is not free.  Everybody can pay something and everybody has the responsibility to carry on the American dream for the next generation - even if it is only a dollar.  Once everybody has “skin” in the game, the nature of the debate at the national level will totally change.  That is why I believe a flat tax and/or national sales tax is the way to go.  For sure there would have to be adjustments made for low-income families, but the point is, you would have to put something in to get something out.

The country is too fractured because at the national level, the political parties are too concerned about who is paying for what.  We need to come together as a nation and everybody needs has to have the responsibility to help pay for our country’s freedom.  At the local level, we have not once in my five years on council ever been in a debate on who is paying for what because we all know we are in it together.  I believe this is one of the reasons it is much easier to find consensus and compromise at the local level than at the national level.  I also believe this is one of the reasons our local politicians in general are more conservative with the city budget than the national politicians are.  Almost all income spectrums of the population contribute to the Jacksonville budget.

Therefore, in order to move the country forward, we need to go to a new tax system.  The current system is too fractured, too cumbersome and turns too many Americans against one another.  When everybody has some “skin” in the game, the country will be better able to focus on the benefits vs. cost of national programs instead of arguing over who is paying for what.

Editorial by Stephen Joost.