It long ago was resolved that taxation without representation won’t work in this country. Hopefully, Lawrence city commissioners soon will make it clear that taxation without a plan won’t fly either.
City commissioners once again are preparing to take up the often-controversial subject of special taxing districts. Developers are seeking a “Community Improvement District” that would allow an extra 1 percent sales tax to be charged on purchases made at four businesses near 23rd Street and Ousdahl Road.
That proposal has been before commissioners since August. They correctly have not moved forward in creating the district because they want more details about how the special 1 percent tax will be used. The state law allows developers to use the tax for public and private improvements at the site. The Mission-based development group has submitted specific plans for how the money will be used at three of the four business sites — a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, a Yokohama Sushi restaurant, and a former Kwik Shop store. However, specific plans have not been presented for the fourth and largest site, the Hobby Lobby store, which probably also will be the largest tax generator of the four.
In August, commissioners told developers to bring back more details about how the tax dollars would be used at the Hobby Lobby location. This month, the developers came back but not with a specific plan. They say Hobby Lobby isn’t ready to commit to any specific improvements but the developers are confident improvements — everything from stormwater to building projects — will occur sometime in the future. In the meantime, they are suggesting that the special tax be charged at the Hobby Lobby site and the proceeds placed in an escrow account that won’t be spent until a specific plan is approved by city commissioners.
We would suggest something else: Let’s put the plan before the tax, not the tax before the plan.
It would be a poor precedent for commissioners to allow a business to charge consumers this special tax without having a detailed budget for how the money will be spent. The chance of problems occurring down the line seems significant with such an arrangement.
That would be particularly unfortunate because — although no one likes to pay an extra tax — such special taxing districts will deserve serious consideration from city leaders in the future, if the city wants retail to be a major part of our economic base.
As we move forward, we should always remember that a special tax requires what should be the most routine principle of government actions: transparency.