Mayor Wade's tax hike strategy set but preschool is the hang-up

As a candidate, the mayor promised to try to raise private funds to pay for preschool, but he hasn’t raised enough yet.

By Tom Troy / The Blade
Fri, 29 Nov 2019 05:00:00 GMT

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GETTING TOLEDO voters to approve a half-percentage point tax increase is going to be a tall political order for the mayor.

Wade Kapszukiewicz found that out when he rolled out his plan last week at a city council meeting. The plan is to ask city voters on March 17 — St. Patrick’s Day to most of us — to approve an increase in the city payroll tax from 2.25 percent to 2.75 percent to raise about $45 million a year.

Half of it would be spent on capital improvements, such as roads and parks. Half would go to boost the general fund.

Things started off testy but then got more warm and fuzzy.

In his presentation to council, the mayor was caught up short by Councilman Larry Sykes who accused Mr. Kapszukiewicz of telling him that the tax increase was entirely for roads. This after Mr. Kapszukiewicz swallowed hard and signed Mr. Sykes’s lead ordinance, which the mayor had opposed, the previous week.

“That’s not true,” the mayor responded icily.

Mr. Sykes then said, “I have to know how to sell this to my people.”

The mayor’s pithy advice was, “this is an income tax. You have to have an income to pay it.”

In presenting to council, Mr. Kapszukiewicz painted a sad picture of Toledo’s future without this tax hike. Oh yes, the city will “survive,” and at best will make “tiny” improvements.

“We’ll limp along,” he said.

By 2036, “we will be driving on dust in some parts of the central city.” And that’s a best-case scenario.

With his enthusiasm for this plan, Mr. Kapszukiewicz will win over a lot of doubting Thomases. He points out that of Ohio’s biggest cities, Toledo has the lowest tax rate, spends the least per capita, and is losing population at the fastest rate.

“We are not investing in ourselves as the others do. Successful cities believe in themselves.”

Though Mr. Sykes, and Councilmen Rob Ludeman and Tom Waniewski raised some issues, an equal number — Peter Ujvagi, Cecelia Adams, and Nick Komives — offered their strong backing.

Mr. Komives said he was living in Columbus when that former Toledoan, Mayor Michael Coleman, got the city to raise its income tax from 2 percent to 2.5 percent in 2009.

“I paid the extra taxes. I see the city thriving immensely,” Mr. Komives said.

In a speech several weeks ago in Toledo, Mr. Coleman happened — conveniently — to say that the most important thing that helped Columbus grow was raising the income tax.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz is counting on a mostly Democratic — i.e., pro-tax — turnout on March 17 because of the Democratic presidential nomination contest. Republicans have no such contest, so they will have no other reason to vote that day.

(In 2016, when Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson tried to raise the income tax by a quarter-percentage point, the political tables were flipped. Republicans turned out in big numbers for John Kasich in his bid for the GOP nomination, while Democrats were already settled on Hillary Clinton.)

Mr. Kapszukiewicz’s pointed reference to the key issue of income means we can count on a steady stream of vans carrying voters from senior centers to the downtown Early Vote Center. In addition to the retired, central city voters will be key to the passage of this issue. The 2016 ballot question was strongly supported in the central city, but it was opposed in all of the ring precincts.

Well-equipped with supportive facts, the mayor will be at every Block Watch and chicken dinner in the city over the next four months to try to talk Toledoans into believing they can have nice things just like Columbus.

New roads, youth programs in the parks, body cams for cops, competitive salaries for city employees (that’s appealing to the city employee unions, maybe not the general public), and preschool education for 4-year-olds.

The last one, though, is the potential deal-killer.

As a candidate, the mayor promised to try to raise private funds to pay for preschool. But he’s raised commitments of only $600,000 a year, when he needs $7 million a year.

This election will decide whether voters are any more interested in paying for preschool than the monied private sector.

Tom Troy is associate editor of The Blade and member of The Blade Editorial Board.