I live in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights. It is a fairly small residential community of about 5 square miles and 30,000 people. It has long been proud of the quality of life and services offered to its residents, and of its public school system which both our daughters attended throughout the K-12 years. In order to maintain this without a significant commercial base means that we have one of the highest tax rates in the state.
Like all other communities, the city government has been feeling the financial pinch. This has been accentuated by the Republican dominated Ohio governorship and legislature that passed state income tax cuts, and then in turn cut local government funding as a means of balancing the state budget. The state also eliminated inheritance taxes because god forbid that little Biff and Muffy should lose even one cent of their parents’ money that will enable them to live in the luxury to which they feel entitled, even if they did nothing to earn it. Property tax revenues have also declined due to declining home values.
As a result of this triple whammy, the city had the option of either drastically cutting services to residents or raising the city income tax rate from 1.75% to 2.25%. They have proposed a tax increase and it will be on the ballot on August 7 as Issue 1. I have lived in this community since 1989 and this is the first tax increase we have had. I support it and hope that it passes.
It is hard to gauge how things will turn out. One can divide the residential areas in this small city into four categories based roughly on the size and cost of the homes. There is the lower-middle class section, the comfortable middle class section (where we live), the upper-middle class section, and the wealthy, the last living in palatial homes typical of one-percenter lifestyles. My drive to work in the mornings starts from almost one end of Shaker Heights and leaves it at the other end, passing through the upper-middle class and wealthy sections along the way. It is interesting that I see only lawn signs in favor of the tax increase as opposed to just one against which was – you guessed it – in the wealthiest area. On my own street about 20% of the homes have lawn signs in favor of the tax and none against.
But this does not mean that the vote will pass easily. The people in the city tend to be community and civic minded. Every three years or so, it passes a school levy, often when other communities are defeating theirs. Only one school levy has failed in the time I have been here and that was overturned within a year. Because of this ethos, those who support raising the taxes are willing to sign their names to documents and put up yards signs (as we have done) while those who oppose school levies or this tax increase tend to lie low, passing out unsigned flyers. So lawn signs are not a good measure of voter sentiment.
It will be interesting to see if on August 7 our local community bucks the vociferous anti-tax voices that dominate the national debate.