Congratulations, citizens of Johnson County. You're getting a tax increase -- a giant one.
As anticipated, a majority of commissioners voted to sock-it-to taxpayers. Voting in support of the tax increase were commissioners Jim Allen, Steve Klika, Ron Shaffer, and Ed Eilert (pictured).
Remember that race for county commission chair in 2014? Remember the primary that pitted Patricia Lightner, Ed Eilert and Ed Peterson against one another for chair of the county?
The bulk of Democrat Ed Peterson's campaign was a push for higher taxes. When he announced he would run for county chair, Peterson said county government was choosing to settle for less by not increasing taxes.
"We have hundreds of acres of parkland that county residents cannot enjoy because we have not developed it," Peterson said at the time. "Our popular library system has had to reduce hours. We retreated from a transit plan just as it produced an increase in ridership."
Eilert campaigned on maintaining the status quo. His campaign basically asserted that the sun is shining here in the Golden Ghetto. No need to change course.
Patricia Lightner's campaign suggested as chair Lightner would go one step further than maintaining the status quo and seek budget constraints whenever possible.
In a primary that narrowed the field, Peterson -- the most liberal of the three -- was eliminated.
Unfortunately, Eilert won the chairmanship in November, and he's used it to do exactly the things the biggest loser Peterson campaigned on.
Johnson County residents are now slapped with an almost 14 percent tax increase, courtesy of Eilert and the board. The extra funds will bolster county reserves and parks and library expansions. These new taxes do not sunset, though county commissioners can, but probably never will, inch the tax rate lower in the future.
There are conservatives on the commission. John Toplikar, Michael Ashcraft and Jason Osterhaus voted against the gut-punch 2016 budget and tax increase.
It's frustrating that none of the three can carry the conservative message in a way that resonates in any actionable way with voters or with other commissioners. I can guarantee you Eilert and liberal Steve Klika rallied their supporters to the podium. Their supporters -- most library and parks staffers/board members -- attended budget meetings and advocated as members of the public for the tax increase.
This is so often the problem with conservative elected officials. WE suck at rallying the people in meaningful ways beyond the ballot booth. Don't get me wrong, the ballot box matters immensely, but if our wins there never or rarely result in conservative policy, what's the point?
I never worry about how John Toplikar is going to vote. He may be the only politician, in which I agree with every single vote he's ever taken, but when he takes to the dias to advocate his position, I shudder. He's not eloquent. He's doesn't sound passionate. He stutters and stumbles his way to making a point, and it's awful to watch. I hate saying this, because as I said, I agree with every single vote he's taken. But I now question whether it would be more useful to have someone who votes (the way I consider) wrong every so often, but does a better job of rallying the troops.
Ashcraft is mostly conservative. Some of his votes have been nutso. (He argued for funding parks improvements once with debt rather than reserves, despite more than adequate reserves, due to low interest rates. Uh yeah. That's so not Dave Ramsey.) But he doesn't carry a conservative message very well either. He's too busy trying to sound smart and reasoned. Nothing wrong with smart or reasoned, but rallying the troops requires passion -- and preferably a dose of reasoning too. He doesn't have passion in a way that translates to the general public. He may vote right often, but he doesn't advocate well.
Osterhaus voted correctly this time. He doesn't always. He's "growing" in office, which means he licks Ed Eilert's boots about 60 percent of the time. Also, I have yet to hear him passionately advocate for his position on anything.
This commission looks 180 degrees different with Lightner as chair. The county doesn't own King Louie. Homeowners -- and commercial property owners, everyone forgets them -- don't get hit with a whopping 14 percent tax increase. Barring the ability to get a conservative majority, conservatives need to find candidates for these offices that can rally the base. These candidates need to be able to advocate for their positions in ways that may occassionally persuade other commissioners and that will definitely bring conservatives to meetings when necessary.
That may be a pipe dream.