Log in Subscribe

County Should Have Been Above Board with Healthcare Referendum


If Manatee County really felt that it needed to implement an extra half-cent sales tax in order to properly pay for indigent healthcare programs, then it should have engaged in a more honest debate with its taxpayers. Instead, county officials – with the help of unscrupulous PACs – dangled a proposed property tax cut that only confused the issue. Together with the rush to put on an expensive special election, despite apprehension from several commissioners, voters rightly saw this as an attempt to pull a fast one without exploring all of the alternatives.

The county says that it has been having this conversation with citizens for years through its healthcare task force. But those occasional presentations to the board told the public very little. Ultimately the recommendation was to maintain the status quo, while continuing to make vague assertions about routing more indigents from the very expensive (and highly profitable) ERs to the shamefully underutilized walk-in clinics, which never materialize, probably because the status quo is so profitable for certain interests.

Manatee County is not obligated to make many of these payments beyond the depletion of its corpus, established with the county's sale of Manatee Memorial Hospital. The conversation should have been about convincing taxpayers to tax themselves further in order to continue paying hospitals beyond the time in which we are obligated. Clearly, it's going to be a hard sell, considering the economic state of most Manatee citizens and the extreme profitability of the healthcare providers, not to mention the fact that we are about to undergo the most massive expansion of government healthcare in our history.

Commissioners could have pledged to try and offset that tax, at least for homeowners, with property tax cuts. But they also would have had to acknowledge that the real winners even in that scenario would have been large businesses like FPL, Tropicana and yes, Manatee Memorial, who would have seen much more significant cuts, which unlike homeowners, would not have been neutralized by similar increases in sales tax burden.

Instead the county conflated the issue to try and fool voters into thinking that this was really a referendum on lower taxes. The dishonesty in the county's presentation was highlighted by the conflicted reaction of the county commission, who went back and forth on 4-3 and 5-2 votes to even offer the referendum. It was also compounded by the inexlpicable decision to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a special election, when they could have easily put it on the November 2012 ballot.

There was a time when stinkers like this would have slipped by easily, needing little more than the expensive disinformation campaign that the special interests looking to benefit gladly financed, as it represented only a drop in the bucket compared to what they stood to gain by maintaining the status quo. But it appears the BOCC has spent too much of its credibility trying to shell game issues and ram through policy.

From the shady way it misrepresented the county administrator's new contract to its refusal to distance itself from the PAC that was responsible for misrepresenting the tax issue, many members on the board have proven quite comfortable in telling the public no more than they deem necessary for them to hear. They seem to take an attitude of condescension as if the taxpayers wouldn't understand the issues anyway, don't get how things really work, and should just sit back and trust the board and their vague assurances that all is being done in their best interest. That's not why we elect public officials. Kudos to Manatee voters for telling commissioners that loud and clear on Tuesday.

Now the county will have to undertake the work it should have embarked on from the start. It's time to fully audit the healthcare fund and hopefully bring in reputable, outside consultants who can propose ways that we might, in conjunction with the implementation of Obamacare, make better use of maintaining current healthcare spending levels (the portion that currently comes from the general fund) without raising taxes. It would just be nice if we had the $400,000 or so that Tuesday's election likely cost us in order to do so.

see also:

Muddling Manatee's Healthcare Sales Tax Issue

Published Thursday, May 23, 2013 12:11 am
Dennis Maley's column appears every Thursday and Sunday in The Bradenton Times. He can be reached at dennis.maley@thebradentontimes.com. Click here to visit his column archive. Click here to go to his bio page. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook.


No comments on this item

Only paid subscribers can comment
Please log in to comment by clicking here.