Scott Tibbs
April 29th, 2005

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Food and Beverage Tax debate exposes arrogance of local Democrats.

By Scott Tibbs
April 29, 2005

It appears that the Indiana Legislature will not allow Monroe County to implement a Food and Beverage Tax, thanks to the lobbying efforts of former County Councilor Jeff Ellington. Of course, local Democrats are whining and crying about Ellington's efforts to defeat enabling legislation for the F&B Tax. What we really have here is that local Democrats are complaining that a private citizen used his First Amendment right to "petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Some are whining that Ellington has "special status" because of his position as a former elected official. They say it is "wrong" for someone who lost the election to use his influence with the State Legislature to remove Monroe County from the list of counties allowed to implement a Food and Beverage Tax. So? Ellington is still a citizen with as much right to lobby the State Senate as anyone else. It's called the First Amendment, folks. Some members of the State Senate chose to listen to Ellington because of his clout. If Ellington is able to wield a little more influence on behalf of many people here opposed to the F&B Tax, more power to him. I don't see Republicans whining about the fact that Democratic Mayor Mark Kruzan, a former House Majority Leader, is lobbying for the F&B tax.

It is both idiotic and arrogant to whine and cry that any citizen, former elected official or not, is "undermining" the work of current elected officials when that individual exercises his First Amendment right to petition government for redress of grievances. This is a constitutional republic, not a monarchy. Elected officials do not have a Divine mandate, though some apparently think they do.

Some Democrats are claiming that Ellington does not represent the views of Monroe County residents because he lost his race for County Commissioner in 2004, and therefore does not have standing to claim he represents what the voters here want. This is part of the rationalization that Ellington was "wrong" to lobby against the enabling legislation for the F&B Tax. Even if this were true, what does it matter? Ellington is still a United States citizen and is still covered by the First Amendment. Do Democrats really believe that it is "wrong" for a United States citizen to take advantage of his Constitutional rights?

Of course, using one election to measure Ellington's popularity with voters is silly. Ellington lost last year in large part to a huge turnout against George W. Bush. In 2000, Ellington finished exactly one vote behind Scott Wells (the Messiah of the Green Left) in official vote totals for the honor of being the #1 vote-getter in the at-large County Council race. When all the votes were counted after a machine error was discovered, Ellington finished with more votes than the Green Left's Messiah. Ellington was first elected to the County Council in 1996, defeating Brian O'Neill (another darling of the extreme Left) by a few votes for the third and final at-large spot. In 1998, Ellington defeated entrenched incumbent State Representative Jerry Bales in the Republican primary.

Even last year, Ellington got over 21,000 votes to Kiesling's 25,400. Ellington's total was significantly higher than Kiesling's 17,931 votes four years earlier when she won the same office. The power of the Ellington name was reinforced in last year's primary, when his sister (who has never run for anything) soundly defeated the Republican Party chairman (who is also a big name and very popular with local Republicans) in a county-wide race for Delegate to State Convention. (Full disclosure: I was also on the ballot in that three-way contest and finished with 15% of the vote.)

If Democrats are so concerned about the will of the people, why don't we have a referendum on passing a Food and Beverage Tax? You know, like the MCCSC property tax increase referendum that was completely and utterly annihilated in 1999? If we are really concerned about the will of the people, we can measure it directly by having them cast a straight up-or-down vote on a Food and Beverage Tax.

What about the enabling legislation that Ellington lobbied against? Despite Democrats' claims, this is not fiscal home rule. It is a special exception for Monroe County that other counties do not have. I support true fiscal home rule, but not special exceptions.

Democrats claim that giving Monroe County a special exception did not implement a tax, but only allowed local government to consider it. Let's not be naïve here. If the state gave Monroe County a special exception to implement a F&B Tax, implementation of the tax was a done deal. Both the County Council and the County Commissioners have majorities that would have supported a F&B tax, as does the City Council.

One of the hosts of the AM1370 Afternoon Edition said yesterday that it is short-sighted not to pass a F&B Tax because it would help the local economy if it is used to build a new convention center. Implementing a brand new tax to build a convention center is corporate welfare. I find it ironic that local Democrats (especially "Green Democrats") complain about "developer subsidies", and yet support a tax on everyone to enhance the profits of a few. I have no problem with local hotels making a profit; I hope all of them are as successful as possible. What I have a problem with is government confiscating the wealth of everyone to fill the pockets of a few.

Ellington went to Indianapolis to lobby against a Food and Beverage Tax for Monroe County, not only because he believes it is bad policy, but because many others in Monroe County believe it is bad policy. I am glad that Ellington was able to use the influence he has with key members of the State Senate to prevent Monroe County from being included in this bill. If someone wants to criticize Ellington's lobbying efforts as bad for Monroe County, or if anyone wants to criticize the merits of Ellington's position, that's fine. But to whine and cry about the fact that he went up there to begin with is not only arrogant, but hypocritical as well.

If Democrats (and tax-loving "Republicans") want to pass a Food and Beverage Tax, they are more than free to lobby the Legislature to allow them to implement such a tax. Failing that, they can work harder to win a majority in the State House in 2006, and the State Senate in 2006 and 2008. Whining and crying about the fact that their special exception was defeated because a private citizen dared use his First Amendment rights to lobby against it speaks volumes about the attitude of local Democrats. This is a revelation that I hope Monroe County voters remember in 2006, 2007 and especially in 2008.