Now that Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper has announced he’s running for Ohio auditor, the first attack launched by Republicans is that tired old bromide that Pepper’s a ‘tax and spend liberal."
Let’s put aside the fact that while Pepper has been on the three-member county commission, the Democratic majority cut expenditures so far by $30 million between 2008 and this year, reverting spending back to 1999 levels. Nope, the GOP knows that argument won’t work.
Instead, Alex Triantafilou, chair of the Hamilton County Republican Party, criticizes Pepper today on the GOP blog for proposing a county sales tax hike in 2007 that would’ve built a new jail and paid for other reforms to the county’s criminal justice system.
"Mr. Pepper's short tenure as a Hamilton County commissioner provides no basis for voters to promote him to statewide office,” Triantafilou wrote.
“Our county faces a fiscal and public safety crisis after Mr. Pepper and his colleagues brazenly raised taxes without a vote of the citizens only to be rebuffed by the voters for the irresponsible size of their tax increase proposal,” he added. “The failure of the commissioners to successfully fund public safety has left our county with a dangerous lack of jail capacity.”
Pepper and his fellow Democratic commissioner used their authority under state law to seek the sales tax increase. Some anti-tax groups collected enough signatures to force a referendum on the issue and defeated it at the polls.
Let's break this down, step by step.
First, Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr., a Republican, actively lobbied for a new jail and enthusiastically praised the tax hike effort. Secondly, the county GOP supported the tax and fought the voter-led repeal. Although it’s true that the decision was made by Triantafilou’s predecessor as chairman, if he felt so strongly he could’ve made a personal statement urging its repeal. He didn’t.
Further, there’s never been a Republican effort — either locally or at the state level — to introduce a bill that would abolish the ability of county commissioners to unilaterally raise the sales tax. No such bill was ever lobbied for during the many years that Republicans controlled the Ohio Legislature. (Now the Democrats control the House, while the GOP still controls the Senate.)
If such authority is so odious, certainly the party would’ve tried at some point.
Finally, a larger percentage of county voters supported the 2007 tax hike proposal (44 percent) put forward by Pepper and Democrats in a heated campaign, than voted for the 2006 tax proposal (43 percent) introduced by County Commissioners Phil Heimlich and Pat DeWine, both Republicans, and without any organized opposition.
To some observers, that might suggest the latter proposal enjoyed more public support, however marginal.
We enjoy spirited debates about public policy issues here at CityBeat, but Republicans need to up their game in this race.