Response to Skip Walther on a proposed new downtown sales tax (Columbia, MO)

The Columbia, Missouri Downtown Improvement District is proposing a 1/2% maximum tax on all retail sales within the limits of the downtown business district. The justification is that these funds will be spent on “downtown beautification”, “technology and public information enhancements”, promotion of downtown events and assistance to entrepreneurs, “event recruitment and promotion” and “enhancements” to downtown shopping, dining, and entertainment.

Skip Walther, a local attorney and former President of the Missouri Bar Association, reached out to me and asked me to support this ballot. Unfortunately, I don’t think it is a good idea; below is the text of my response. I should also note that I’ve lived in downtown Columbia for the better part of the last 5 years, and have worked at a variety of establishments there, including two and a half years working in fine dining at Trattoria Strada Nova (now closed).

Unfortunately, Skip, I will be voting against this measure. There are a couple reasons. First, I have no reason to trust the CID or the city government, who have repeatedly lied to citizens about their previous “improvements” particularly the surveillance cameras that now are used for live surveillance of businesses like the Blue Fugue, where I conduct a variety of politically-oriented work protected by the First Amendment. Second, I would rather that the city government try to reduce taxes on people trying to spend money in Columbia, not raise them. Third, while I do see a need for street, alley, and sidewalk enhancements, I’d rather allow private property owners more reign to administer their property as they see fit under the law. Fourth, I see no reason why the government should provide WiFi, build smartphone applications, or promote events; this should be properly the purview of private industry and entrepreneurial endeavor and the city government has no core competency in administering or facilitating it. Finally, I see no reason to create another city bureaucracy at a time where public sector compensation arrangements are crushing municipalities.

As an addendum, I see the need for another police officer or fire company in the First Ward, which I see as a much more valuable use of public funds than this CID. I’m also pretty angry at the new “taxi stands” downtown, which seem to be a nifty new way that the city has found to raise revenue by towing students and downtown employees so that the towing company can make a buck.


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