If hyperbole were like secondhand smoke, city elections in this town would have to carry a warning label.
“I think once we check into this stuff, I think some people ought to be going to jail,” Cedar Rapids mayoral hopeful Greg Hughes said, giving his highly nuanced view of how the current 1-cent, local-option sales tax, approved in 2009, has been spent. He made his remarks during a candidate forum last week.
“To make these generic statements, is misleading the voters,” Mayor Ron Corbett said in response. “And you’re the one that I have to question about being truthful with the citizens.”
For the record, the 2009 ballot language said, “Ten percent for property tax relief; and 90 percent for the acquisition and rehabilitation of flood-damaged housing caused by the flooding of 2008, and matching funds for federal flood dollars to assist with flood recovery or flood protection.”
City leaders approved spending $25 million to assist landlords who weren’t eligible for federal flood assistance, and $19 million for flood-affected residents who lost personal possessions. Renters in the same boat got $8 million.
The city also used $37.5 million on repairing, rebuilding or building various public facilities, including $4 million for the central library, $3.55 million for animal control and a $13.1 million slice that includes money for developing flood protection. Despite some revisionist history in years since, the tax always was intended to match federal money for public facilities.
As for the “tax relief” portion, the city can spend it on anything that otherwise would be paid for with property taxes. State lawmakers made themselves feel better about giving cities the power to levy a sales tax by pretending it would go for property tax relief. But it’s really been property tax replacement.
Maybe you agree with these choices, and maybe you don’t. I didn’t think, for instance, the personal possession program fit the ballot language, and I’m not crazy about the new public works facility.
But the notion that someone should go to jail over these disagreements is the sort of tiresome, over-the-top nonsense that’s become commonplace here. I don’t like your decisions, so you must be corrupt. Corbett is right that Hughes’ claims are misleading.
What bothers me even more is that this sort of crossfire has scorched a lot of critical middle ground over the past few years. Legitimate criticisms and concerns get lost in all the smoke. You’re either with the city or against it, in cahoots with the powers-that-be or throwing bricks at them. The debate becomes less productive. The city becomes less responsive and more defensive. It’s no wonder that most people would rather not get involved.
Hughes deserves credit for running, but the city deserves a better mayoral race.