The Morning Report
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Saturday, October 22, 2005 | Adding another layer to his oft-nuanced tax stance, mayoral candidate Jerry Sanders told a crowd Friday that he has never ruled out the possibility of supporting a tax increase if elected.
The former police chief told a gathering of the Catfish Club and the City Club that he could support a tax increase years down the road once the city’s pension crisis is tamed. The statement folds another wrinkle into the tax ideology of a candidate who has offered a number of seemingly contradictory opinions on tax increases throughout his five-month campaign for mayor.
The campaign’s focus has shifted largely to the tax theme in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 election. Councilwoman Donna Frye has said she will likely ask voters to approve a half-cent sales tax increase to help solve the city’s worsening financial ills. It is a proposal that has drawn heavy criticism, and seemingly strong anti-tax language, from Sanders.
“I’ve never taken tax increases off the table before,” Sanders said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen five years down the road. I have said, though, all along that I didn’t believe the citizens should have to pay during this period of restoring the city’s finances with the problems we have right now.”
That was essentially Sanders’ tax ethos when he began his campaign in May.
However, as the July primary approached, Sanders’ closest opponent, Steve Francis, ran a critical television advertisement claiming Sanders wanted to raise taxes and Francis wouldn’t.
In a press conference called the morning after the ad began airing, Sanders defended his stance, saying: “I’ve absolutely said no taxes.” That was July 15.
He finished second in the primary on July 26; Sanders and Frye have battled since. Early on in the general election, Sanders sought to make it clear that the election would offer voters a simple choice: one candidate that would raise taxes and another who wouldn’t.
When asked to clarify his tax stance last week, Sanders said at a press conference: “I will not support a tax increase to fix the problem we’re in now.”
Sanders was then pressed twice to define how he specifically defined the “problem we’re in now.”
“I will not support a tax increase,” he said flatly.
His campaign has consistently used Frye’s possible tax increase to bash her financial plan. But Sanders appeared to soften his recent tax language Friday.
“When we’ve got the city functioning again, then people down the line may want to make some decisions about public safety, they may want to make some decisions about infrastructure, those are the types of things,” Sanders said.
He continued: “But my position’s never changed. I won’t say ‘never’ will I be part of a tax increase if at some point after we’ve solved the city’s problems the community says we’d like to vote for this and we think it’s an important thing.”
Frye estimates that her potential tax increase would raise $110 million a year and sunset after 10 years.
Both candidates rely on deep cuts and legal challenges to employee pension benefits to anchor their financial plans.
However, Frye casts the city’s pension problem as only one spoke in a deep financial crisis that needs to be dealt with comprehensibly. She regularly cites studies that have put the city’s infrastructure, public safety and other basic needs at a deficit of $2 billion.
Sanders, on the other hand, has built his plan around first solving the pension issue and then moving on to other problems.
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