Thursday, August 7, 2014

We tax for baseball?

I spent my summer surveying citizens in and around Menomonie and faculty, staff, and students at UW-Stout. The goal: to find out how much the community values a cleaner Lake Menomin and which cleanup policies they would be most supportive of.

I asked people whether or not they’d be willing to support three different payment mechanisms that would fund a lake cleanup—an additional 0.1% sales tax, a $10 monthly water bill addition, and a $120 annual property tax addition.  

I found that, by far, the greatest support is for an additional 0.1% sales tax. In my sample, almost 90% said they would pay the sales tax if it cleaned the lake for the whole summer (67% if it cleaned the lake for an additional month of summer), while only about 50% supported both the water bill and the property tax additions.

What this means for policymakers is that if they need to implement some sort of tax to bring in revenue to fund a lake cleanup, they should choose a sales tax addition and not a water bill or property tax addition. If a 0.1% sales tax were put to a popular vote, it would pass with a substantial majority

Sales tax additions of 0.1% have worked in Wisconsin (think of Baseball Stadium District tax in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington, and Waukesha countries), and the overwhelming support in my survey suggests it would work here as well. If people can get behind a tax to fund a baseball stadium, certainly they can get behind a tax to protect their health and livelihoods.

A 0.1% tax, or a mere $1 for every $1000 spent, sounds small. But when applied to the entire Dunn County, it could bring in close to $400,000 annually. Keep this tax for a few years, and the county will have generated over $1 million for lake cleanup efforts. I don’t know if $1 million is enough to clean Lake Menomin, and it may not even be a dent. But it’s a start, and with lake toxin levels at dangerous levels for human and animal health year-round, we need a start.

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