Dying a thousand deaths from hidden taxes
With their penchant for meeting behind closed doors we can’t be totally sure, but we think it’s a safe bet city council members haven’t been scheming how to stick it to everybody but their wealthiest constituents.
Still, that’s exactly what they’ve been doing in considering raising utility rates in both Marion and Hillsboro.
While it’s true the cities will be paying more for electricity they buy at wholesale, what they seldom talk about — especially with people who pay city bills — is how much of those monthly bills is essentially a tax, above and beyond the cities’ cost of providing electricity.
To a lot of people, it’s no big deal. They’d rather be nickel-and-dimed to death paying inflated electric rates, sales taxes, and other “hidden” taxes than see the true cost of local government in once-a-year property tax bills.
But that’s the type of shortsightedness that all too often keeps those of us who aren’t comfortably wealthy from ever joining those who are.
Whether you’re a billionaire living in a huge mansion or a person with limited income struggling to keep a family warm, fed, and clothed in a tiny homestead, you probably use about the same amount of electricity each month. In fact, you may use even more in a drafty homestead without the fancy insulation and shiny new energy-efficient furnaces, air conditioners, and appliances your wealthier neighbors can afford.
When cities rely on profit from electric sales more than they do from property taxes, they allow their wealthiest residents to pay disproportionately lower shares of the total cost of keeping the cities running.
Politicians understand this all too well. Each year they spend August being seen as valiantly holding the line on mill levies, like so many Don Quixotes tilting at windmills, only to turn around a few weeks later and consider raising far more insidious taxes like utility rates.
Still, it’s not their fault. It’s ours for being willing to die a financial death from a thousand paper cuts rather than see the true total government is costing us when property tax bills arrive.
— ERIC MEYER
Last modified Nov. 27, 2014