With it's editorial on March 11 in support of the 1 percent local option sales tax, members of the Reformer's editorial board blatantly expressed their disregard for the local business community, the very same businesses that keep our beloved newspaper on life support with their advertising dollars. But the short sightedness of the Reformer's editorial staff did not stop there. Of course, we all know that many, if not most, consumers in our community take advantage of shopping tax free on the other side of the Connecticut River, and have been doing so for years. Should that give our local town leaders carte blanche to further drive spending into the Granite State by increasing local taxes? Does the Reformer really think that more local taxes is not going to exacerbate this monetary traffic flow to N.H. businesses? If so, why stop at 1 percent; why not go to 2 percent, 3 percent, or 4 percent?
Yes, in a perfect world we should all claim our N.H. purchases on our Vermont income tax returns. And I am sure that the members of the Reformer's editorial staff are doing just that. Just like when they happen to drive over the speed limit, they are the first to walk into the local police station and volunteer to pay for their violation. In the real world, Brattleboro businesses are suffering from their tax disadvantage. Home Depot closed many years ago; the empty big box with its "For Lease" sign reminds us of the jobs and tax revenue that went eastward as a result. Staples recently announced that it will be closing 1,100 stores nationwide. My guess is that either the Brattleboro or Keene store is on that list -- would the readers like to bet which one would be the first to go?
The proponents of this 16.7 percent sales tax increase are trying to sell it with a reduction in property taxes. As outlined in the Reformer's editorial, the owner of a $200,000 house would end up saving $53 in property taxes per year, or about 14.5 cents per day. Should we really believe that someone owning a $200,000 house cannot set aside 3 nickels per day to support the rebuilding of our town's first responder services? Surely, this is a much smaller sacrifice than the continued deconstruction of Brattleboro's businesses and the jobs they contain.
What is most ludicrous in the cost benefit analysis of the proposed local option tax is that no one has taken into account the effect of diminished business sales. Current calculations assume that local spending remains unchanged in light of an increased tax, which no one with any common sense should accept. If a consumer currently spends $100 in local Brattleboro business, the resulting tax revenue is $6. Faced with the 16.7 percent sales tax increase, that same consumer could very well now decide to take $20 to New Hampshire, spending only $80 locally. Vermont and Brattleboro have now actually lost 40 cents of tax revenue (7 percent of $80 = $5.60)
Many communities in Northern Vermont have done a tremendous job bringing in new businesses, thereby creating jobs and added tax revenue. Why is Brattleboro unwilling to get on the same program? With Vermont Yankee leaving us soon, our elected leaders should be redoubling their efforts in figuring out ways to create jobs -- not to create a business-hostile, tax heavy environment. The population of Brattleboro and Windham County has been stagnant for 30 years, and is predicted to remain so for many years to come. Our young people -- especially the well-educated with leadership potential to grow our communities -- are leaving us in steady numbers because they see few, if any, opportunities for them to build a future.
I urge all concerned voters to take the long term view: contact your town representative and tell them to vote against setting Brattleboro on a path toward further economic decline. To our town representatives: Please vote "no" on the local option 1 percent sales tax.
Disclaimer: The 1 percent local option tax would be collected on all automobile purchases at time of registration, regardless of where the vehicle is bought. However, the writer does have a business stake in this matter based on his sales of automotive parts.
Frank B. Hanenberger is dealer principal at Brattleboro Ford Subaru.