By Tommy Brents
Over the course of the past year and a half or so, small business owners across America have faced tremendous challenges. In Texas alone, it is estimated that more than 10,000 small businesses have closed permanently. At the state and federal level, politicians on both sides of the aisle are quick to point to Coronavirus as the cause of the economic disruption, but they rarely, if ever, acknowledge their own culpability.
Businesses in Liberty County have, thankfully, not shuttered en masse, but it is no secret that many are struggling and some have recently made the difficult decision to transition out of business ownership altogether. Besides corporately-owned gas stations, new retail space has certainly been slow to develop, and with the cost of goods and services rising, business owners face the prospects of an even more tumultuous future.
It is unconscionable that local officials are following in the footsteps of their state and federal counterparts to seize this particular occasion to demand citizens relinquish more of their hard-earned cash. They are calling for what amounts to a “Great Reset” here at home, only instead of “Build Back Better” it is Build “Better Care.”
Taxpayers in Liberty, for example, have seen every local taxing authority approve a tax increase over the past month and a half. Two of them, Liberty ISD (which already has the highest tax rate of any entity in Liberty County) and the Hospital District (which already unanimously approved a tax increase just over a month ago), are asking for so much more from taxpayers that they are being forced to seek voter approval. Both have made emotional pleas to local residents, but neither have shown a willingness to make tough sacrifices and suffer well like the rest of us. One might even say they consider themselves “too big to fail.”
Business owners, though fewer in number, are likely to bear a much heavier burden with these tax increases than local residents. Those unfamiliar with running a business may not be aware that the costs of doing so are already significantly higher than simply residing locally. Goods and services provided to businesses (even public utilities) are often obtained at much higher rates than those paid by average consumers. Despite public perception, the ability to “just write that off” does not pay the bills each month.
Unlike for homeowners, there are no common tax exemptions available to business owners which may ease their burdens. Instead, those burdens just get more unbearable each year as insurance rates soar, property valuations and tax rates inch higher, government expands regulations/mandates, and now, of course, inflation surges. Business ownership is a blessing, but it sure is not for the faint of heart.
Lest we believe this is merely a business problem, consumers are becoming increasingly aware that in order for businesses to keep their doors open and to compete with government welfare systems, they must pass their rising costs on to their customers. The cost of groceries, even the cost of a burger and fries at a local budget fast food joint have gotten more expensive. Have you noticed that “Dollar Menus” have become “Value Menus”?
This vicious cycle is not sustainable, and there is a point at which neither the producers of goods and services, nor consumers, will be able to afford to participate in it. Wise entrepreneurs will leave the marketplace first, but too many will make the unwise decision to blow their savings or go into debt just to try and save their business. In the end, ambition alone won’t put food on the table.
Please understand that no amount of taxpayer funds will adequately offset the destructive consequences of adopting big government economic policies here at home. Government officials can build all the empty roads they want, purchase all the struggling country clubs with golf courses, prolong the life of failing hospitals, and even repurpose all the car dealerships and old retail buildings left in town, but more government spending will never solve our problems and improve our local economies.
If local officials were serious about seeing our communities prosper, they would lower tax rates, pursue public policy that makes conducting business locally more profitable, and they would quit competing against private enterprise. Why would financial risk takers and decision makers choose to invest in Liberty County when the local government sees them as only a means to an end (more tax revenue for fancy big government equipment, new facilities, and projects)? That is an antiquated way of thinking that exchanges a growing economy for a growing government.
The reality is, the local propositions on the ballot represent a very real threat to the financial well-being of residents and business owners alike. The Hospital District in particular is asking for voters to approve over 135 million dollars of spending (after interest) over as many as 50 years. They like to brag about their “low tax rate”, but have not bragged about how their propositions passing would result in them having one of the highest I&S tax rates (the amount of taxpayer funds it takes to service their debt) among hospital districts in the entire State of Texas. These irresponsible measures will only hasten the decline of local small business and further drive away young families from our communities.
The good news is, for most of us, it is not too late to step back from the ledge and take a deep breath — to think selflessly and rationally. We are not immune to the challenges the rest of the world is facing. We have an opportunity to exercise our right to vote responsibly against a Great Reset here at home by voting AGAINST Hospital District Props A and B, and any other ballot measure that seeks to raise our taxes.
As we exercise our right to vote, we would do well to remind ourselves and others that “It’s OK to Vote no!”
Tommy Brents is a second generation small business owner. He is a lifelong Liberty County resident, and has had the honor of serving the communities of south Liberty County for nearly 15 years. He and his family are thankful to call Liberty their home.
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