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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Times, They Are A Changin'....

The Power to Tax Involves the Power to Destroy
Chief Justice John Marshall, McCulloch vs. Maryland, 1819

It looks like Charlie Crowell is going to be a very lonely hero.

At the Dennis Selectmen’s Meeting, he was the lone holdout voting against seeking special legislation to require those who rent out time shares or their private residences to charge state rooms tax when renting out their house during the summer. ''We have enough taxes,'' he said at the board meeting. ''We don't need any more.''

This new effort was begun in Brewster, where Ed Lewis of the Brewster Board enthused, “'I don't know of any town on the Cape that can't use more revenue.'' Especially on something like summer rentals, the epitome of the old saying by Sen. Russell Long, ‘Don’t Tax You, Don’t Tax Me – Tax That Fellow Behind The Tree!’ Dennis now joins Provincetown (which only paused to curse that they hadn’t done so first), Harwich, Orleans, Falmouth and Brewster which have already passed such resolutions, unanimously. Yarmouth is cautiously studying it. Yarmouth already has a lion’s share of the hotel rooms on Cape, and is perhaps worried about the impact on that industry.

Why this sudden stampede of tax happy selectmen? When Sen. O’Leary filed a bill in the last Legislative session to do the same thing, the interest was lukewarm at best. How would it be collected – was every John and Jane to become a tax collector for the state and town? Wouldn’t it just drive rentals – especially those which were undeclared on income tax forms – underground, and deprive towns of the revenue derived from the registration certificates they already sold, and create a new nod-and-wink economy, to join the uncollected sales tax at flea markets? What would it do to the realtors who specialized in handling rentals – would they be expected to collect and transmit the taxes too or would they just lose the bookings to the Internet and classified ads? The bill died a swift death, and the Senator didn’t even bother to refile it when he was reelected.

Why the change? Whence the sudden appetite for a brand-new, fresh from the bandbox tax, never charged before? Especially now, when the worst of the fiscal crisis is over, and the towns can actually expect more in local aid than they received in the last few years?

Is Mr. Lewis’ enthusiasm a symptom of something else?

More and more people are buying and living here, and they are coming from places where taxes are high and services are higher. A house observed by Porcupine was recently sold to a man who hails from MetroWest, who trimmed his branches and shrubs over the weekend, and left the sticks and leaves neatly piled where the gutter would be back in Brookline, confident that the trash truck would pick them up. Porcupine will enjoy seeing his face when he returns for the Fourth of July, and finds his mess right where he left it – because there IS no trash pickup here. His tax rate back home approaches $30, but his every need is catered to. It is a jolt when these folk realize that must haul their own trash, pump their own septic systems, and in some cases, arrange for their streets to be plowed, here in the land of no public transportation and rugged individualism. It is a shock when they realize that ‘private road’ doesn’t mean they can ban traffic, it only means they are responsible for paving and upkeep. Increasingly, the appetite to keep a tight rein on town spending is diminishing, as more and more retirees want services, and prefer to pay for them with taxes – and damn the less affluent.

The only comforting note in this saga is that since Sen. O’Leary did not file the bill on time, it will probably die the slow death of a late-filed bill, despite the requests of the towns which have suddenly decided that it is too, too twentieth century to try to live within their means when a fresh glint of uncollected money beckons.

“We already have enough taxes”. Spoken like a true Cape Codder, a rock-ribbed Republican, a Crowell of the Clan. The Dennis tax rate will not soar into double digits on his watch. Even if he did have the misfortune to be born in New Jersey, Charlie Crowell is a True Native Selectman.


Blogger Solon Economou said...

Well said, Sir Porcupine. I think you'll like my column next Thursday (July 7) in the Cape Cod Times addressing this very issue.

9:23 AM  

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