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Page last updated on September 17, 2020 at 8:33 am

Thanks for holding this session and thank you for this chance to speak briefly in support of a modest increase in our Local Income Tax of 0.25% to help our community recover, and to bring a brighter future to all Bloomingtonians. Tonight is the culmination of an ongoing conversation we began back in January and -- don’t worry! -- I’m not going to repeat or even summarize all I’ve said before. But I do ask you to let me take the time I need to make some essential points on this vital measure.


Why we need this modest increase now, tonight, is a bit complicated, even counterintuitive, for reasons we have discussed. The need certainly will become more apparent in coming months and years. The bottom line is that a vibrant, responsive government with adequate resources is most vital in times of greatest challenges, as the history of our community and our nation clearly teach us. And we certainly face enormous challenges now and for the foreseeable future: Covid, climate change, racial justice, growing economic disruptions and inequality, and the accompanying growing needs for food and housing and other essentials for those in our community who will continue to be hardest hit in difficult times.


We face city revenue pressures for several coming years, and are using our rainy day surplus to help weather the immediate storms. But for the longer term, we have the very important decision to make. Will Bloomington have the resources we need to preserve what we love about Bloomington and move forward, for everyone in our community?


Again, I won’t repeat detailed past presentations, including one just last week. I would like to respond very briefly to what I hear as the main oppositions to the proposal.


Concern one: The TIming is bad. Wait. True, in some ways this may not be ideal timing, precisely because these are uncertain and challenging times. But the need is clear right now and the reality is we do not have the luxury of waiting months or even weeks. We must act now because of the serious threats, already demonstrated by the state legislature, that if we do not, the choice may well be taken away from us or hamstrung early next year. 


Concern two: The planned uses of tax proceeds aren’t finalized in detail, or more process is needed among the council and the public to decide the uses. This is absolutely true, but it also absolutely is not a reason to vote “no.” More process is needed to determine the ultimate uses. We will have varied views on priorities – and those views may change over the years. I have proposed some ideas, but I strongly support a robust, public process to debate and plan the uses with the council and the public, before a dime is invested. To meet our essential needs.


Concern three: Public engagement is lacking on whether to impose the tax itself. In fact, public engagement has been occurring generally since January 1 when I first proposed an increase, and mid-July more specifically. Data suggest people actually know where they stand on whether a tax is appropriate. The underlying question whether additional revenue is needed and appropriate is not that complicated, and it is up to you.


Concern four: Other jurisdictions oppose it, so the city should not pass it. True, the county has voiced opposition and it is important to hear that. But our responsibility is to determine what is right for Bloomington, not other communities we don’t represent. The state legislature mandates this tax be imposed county wide, and it defines who votes and how. After we pass this, we will be in a much stronger position to go arm in arm with our colleagues to ask the legislature to allow us to put this in place in the city only (as we have asked for many years). And of course we’ll all continue to collaborate as we do every day, including on how best to invest available resources.


Concern five: The tax itself is just a bad idea, because it is regressive, or because money should be left with individuals who need it and know better how to use it. I think this is just wrong. We all wish state law allowed us directly to make our local income tax progressive, but it does not. Here’s the critical point: whether this tax is effectively progressive or regressive depends on how we use it. That is entirely up to us. And I am confident we all are committed to investing the revenues to the benefit of those who most need our support. The more general anti-tax view sadly has become more familiar in recent decades:  but I know all of us here participate in government because we believe it has an important role to play in building a better community, to address serious challenges, to advance more justice and opportunity and well-being for all, and that it takes taxes to do so. Finally, I’ll note that most of the tax proceeds will come from households earning $100,000 and above, and also that, even after the proposed tax increase, all our residents will enjoy among the very lowest income tax rates of any residents in our 21-county region.


I’ll return just briefly to the reasons for the tax. 


If we want seriously to Recover Forward, we must have resources to do so. With the right resources -- and we will discuss and develop all the details together, council and administration -- but we can help under-employed people get back to work. We can achieve a lower-carbon future and lower the cost of living for many, many of us, with more energy-efficient buildings and better transit, bike, and pedestrian options. We can help struggling local artists and their institutions and protect local food production. We can strengthen our crucial and very stressed safety net, and create more affordable housing and food security and other essentials for those among us who are struggling mightily. We can together have these options to consider.


Without such resources, we will not be able to invest in these or other ways, and indeed likely will struggle just to maintain basic services like public safety, infrastructure, and sanitation and maintenance in coming years.


I’ll close with this. Respectfully, the choice tonight, while perhaps not easy, is rather simple. Stark, even. Four years ago, this body supported a 0.25% income tax increase to invest in public safety. It was the right thing to do -- I supported it then and do so today. Today, four years later, the question is, will we make a similar investment in our community to respond to this terrible pandemic and economic recession, to lift up the poor and low-income among us and preserve our community, to respond to racial injustice, and to address the climate emergency we face? 


We live in times, today, with the greatest economic inequality in a century. In a limited-resources scenario, the gulf will only widen. We have a choice whether to address these unconscionable harms. 


We live in times, today, with enormous racial challenges that persist and can poison our future, even still. We have a choice whether to make the kinds of investments that will create greater equity for people of color.


And we live in times, today, when the existential threat of climate change looms. On the west coast, in the gulf; and in our own community, we face life-threatening heat, severe storms, and other terrible burdens to bear, often unjustly by those with the least means to respond. We have a choice whether to dedicate new resources to mitigate and prepare for this global emergency. 


Doing nothing today in some ways could appear easier to some. The poor or jobless, the disenfranchised or discriminated against, the climate change victims or refugees, our future generations -- they do not have the most political clout. Their voices are typically not the loudest, though sometimes we hear them in the streets or in marches, calling for action. Those voices are the ones we in government need to listen for, and heed today. We need to invest again in our community, like we did four years ago. We need to take care of our whole community, even though the voices in favor may be harder to hear. They are there; they call us to do the right thing. And it is always time to do the right thing. Thank you, and please support this investment in all the people of our community, now, and for generations to come.