by Garret Myhan
By now the Searcy Advertising and Promotion Commission and the Department of Parks and Recreation have been collecting A&P tax funds for well over a month. The tax, which is paid by Searcy consumers when they patronize local restaurants and hotels, was voted into law by the Searcy City Council, bypassing a special election in which Searcy voters would have had to approve the plan. According to Arkansas state statute, implementation of an A&P tax does not require a special election, so the Council was well within their legal bounds when they took this action. However, shortly after the tax plan was passed, a concerned group of citizens petitioned the city for the opportunity for Searcy residents to vote on the matter. Their argument: shouldn’t potential taxpayers have the opportunity to decide whether or not to turn over a greater percentage of their paychecks to the city? This seemingly sensible petition was ignored. So who is correct? Does the city have the moral right to tax its residents without their direct consent?
It seems that the controversy surrounding the Searcy A&P tax stems from fundamental differences in the philosophies of rights and taxation between folks on opposite sides of the issue. Proponents of the tax, and the expensive community improvements it will likely fund, seem to believe that the citizens of Searcy will benefit more from these improvements than they will from being able to keep and spend a greater portion of their own earnings as they see fit. This may be so for some, but how do we know that most Searcians agree? They were not asked for an opinion; no vote was taken.
Some in the community have no problem with this, since, had the issue been put to a vote, they would have voted in favor of the tax anyway. This is understandable. What is not understandable is the argument some of these use for supporting the tax mandate. Consider the following comment made to me the other day by a Searcy resident who shall remain anonymous:
“The residents of Searcy have the right to live in a nice community. If we have to pay this tax in order to make that happen, then I support it. It would not pass a vote, so it had to be done another way.”
What are we to make of this argument? Is it one citizen’s right to live in a community with an aquatic center at the expense of another citizen who does not consent to be taxed?
In the wide world of American politics this tactic is used by the left almost more than any other when it comes to entitlement programs that are funded by taxes. They speak loftily about the “right to health care”, “right to a living wage”, and the “right to government aid”. By the standard of our founders who authored our Constitution, none of these things are rights. Subsidized health care, artificially high wages, and government welfare can all create obligations on the part of someone other than the one receiving the benefit or service. Someone is obligated to provide or fund these services without compensation, whether it be a doctor, a business owner, or a hard-working taxpayer. So while some benefit from income they did not earn, others are forced to pay for services they don’t receive.
True rights create negative obligations. For example, consider my right to free speech. No one is obligated to provide anything to me, they are just obligated not to keep me from speaking. The same goes for the right to assemble, the right to worship, and the right to bear arms. These require nothing from anyone other than not to disrupt assembly, worship, or lawful possession of weapons. True rights do not take, they give. They benefit everyone at the expense of no one.
So would the community improvements funded by the A&P tax be nice to have? I suppose so. Are they our “rights” as citizens of Searcy? Of course not. This ridiculous idea is just evidence that the entitlement mentality that plagues our nation has trickled down to our own community. What we should and do have the right to is our own property, earned through free exchange of our own labor, which the city is morally obligated not to confiscate against our will. Once again it comes down to the fundamental difference between the earners and the takers. What Searcy citizens earn, it is not the city government’s place to take. If Searcy residents desire to give more of our hard earned money to the city to fund an aquatic center then so be it, but the issue should be placed on the ballot for our approval. If the citizens want the A&P tax, let us declare it for ourselves. We have our own voice; this government does not speak for us.