Column: Jail tax: Big battle is brewing

The following is my Cincinnati Post column from Sept. 29, 2007. It did not appear on the Post’s Web site and a few of those who read it online have asked to have it posted. Thank you for asking for it, and here you go…

This week, supporters of a sales tax increase to fund a new county jail kicked off their campaign for what has become known as Issue 27.

Next week promises another anti-tax campaign kick-off, though details have not been finalized.

The big question now might as well become how much money both sides have to make their points.

Neither will say for sure, but Kathy Binns, who recently left her post as Hamilton County Commission President Todd Portune’s chief of staff to run the Citizens for a Safe Community campaign, the pro-Issue 27 group, said she plans to raise a lot.

Sources have told me that plans are in the works for the pro-Issue 27 side to buy television advertising. Suhith Wickrema, a spokesman for the No Jail Tax PAC, one of many groups against the sales tax increase that united in opposition to the plan, said he doubts they will be able to afford TV ads.

That’s OK, according to Hamilton County Commissioner Pat DeWine, who helped organize a petition drive to put the sales tax increase on the Nov. 6 ballot.

“Obviously, ours is going to be a grassroots campaign,” he said. “We may raise a little money, but we are not going to have the big money that the others have. But I think we have the people behind us.”

DeWine cites last fall’s defeat of the jail tax issue as a reason why this one will fail, too. Because of that, opponents of Issue 27 won’t need much, he said.

“I think the more people learn about the details of the plan, the more likely they are to vote against it. Our challenge is just to get the message out.”

Hogwash, Binns said. Getting their message out is exactly what she and her volunteers plan to do — and they expect to win.

“We believe we can absolutely win this thing,” she said. “Our goal is educate people. We have seen as we educate people they realize it’s nothing like what was defeated last year. Then the light bulb goes off above their head and they realize it’s a good plan.”

Portune and fellow Commissioner David Pepper, both Democrats, voted earlier this year to increase the county’s sales tax from 6.5 percent to 7 percent for eight years, starting in 2008. At that point, it would be rolled back to 6.75 percent for another seven years. In 2023, the tax would be reduced to its current 6.5 percent.

Republican DeWine voted against the plan and helped organize an effort that collected more than 27,000 signatures to get it on the ballot this fall.

Joe Wessels covers Cincinnati and Hamilton County government for The Post. Write to him at [email protected] or call (513) 352-2703.



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