Sales tax referendum, 2007

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A referendum was held on Tuesday, June 26, 2007 to determine whether or not the sales tax in Escambia County would be increased by one half-cent ($0.005) for a period of ten years, increasing the sales tax rate to 8.0% from the current tax rate of 7.5%. It was defeated almost 2:1.[1] The additional tax would have generated an expected $15 million to $17 million yearly to fund primary and preventive healthcare for Escambia County residents who lack health insurance and meet certain other criteria.

Official ballot wording[edit]

The ballot worded the measure as follows:

Half-Cent (½¢) Health Care Surtax

An additional half-cent (½¢) surtax on all sales, use and other transactions in Escambia County, Florida shall be levied by the County Commission beginning January 1, 2008 through December 31, 2018, to fund a basic managed health care program for delivery of basic health services to qualified, uninsured residents and to offset the County's required payments for Medicaid or other public programs.

Administration[edit]

The program was to be administered by AccessEscambia, a non-profit 501(c)4 organization established in 2003 to study and address the increase in the number of Escambia County residents who lack health insurance. According to the AccessEscambia website[2], 66,000 or 20% of Escambia County residents "have no health insurance coverage and are not eligible for any publicly-funded programs".

The program aimed to subsidize primary and preventive healthcare services including primary physician care, check-ups, screenings and immunizations, urgent care, chronic disease management, basic lab tests and x-rays, prescription medications, and transportation services.

To be eligible for the program, Escambia County residents would have been required to meet the following criteria:

  • Must have been an Escambia County resident for 2 or more years
  • Must live at or below 150% of federal poverty level (proof of income must be provided)
  • Must have been uninsured for at least the past 12 months
  • Must be employed or actively seeking employment
  • Must be ineligible for any other government program
  • Must agree to pay all co-pays as specified in terms of program
  • Must agree to not miss more than 2 consecutive appointments

The program would have been administered by a "voluntary board to employ care managers to approve eligibility and confirm primary care is received". AccessEscambia claimed that such an administration would comprise "less than 10 employees". Additionally, the Escambia County Commission intended to "appoint citizens to a watchdog committee which would oversee the program and receive an annual expenditure reports to be sure the money is spent appropriately".

Opposition[edit]

In addition to conservative citizens who opposed new taxes or felt that the proposal was a step toward socialized medicine, the AccessEscambia proposal faced opposition from those who oppose welfare programs or feel that the program would benefit a large number of legal immigrants. However, as noted above, applicants would have been required to provide proof of income with a federal tax return, which illegal immigrants would not be able to provide unless they had committed fraud. The only organizations officially opposed to the tax seem to be informal groups such as the "Citizens for Ethical Treatment of Taxpayers". Additionally, some opponents felt that a sales tax, which is a regressive tax (i.e it effectively taxes poorer taxpayers at a higher rate than more wealthy taxpayers), is not the best method to fund such a program.

On June 17, 2007, the Pensacola News Journal published an interview with tax opponent Al Hampton, a retired Sacred Heart Hospital executive[3]. Hampton inferred that as a taxpayer he opposed any new tax, but stated that this tax concerned him especially due to the fact that it is a regressive tax, and that he feels the issue would be better addressed on the state or national level.

Results and context[edit]

The surtax was soundly defeated on June 26, with 22,129 (65.4%) voting "no" and only 11,714 (34.6%) voting "yes" — a ratio of almost 2:1. Voter turnout was only 18.87%.[1]

A similar proposal by AccessEscambia had been defeated by voters in the November 2, 2004 election, 74,367 to 60,278.[4] At the time, many proponents blamed the defeat on skyrocketing expenses in the wake of Hurricane Ivan, as well as low voter awareness amid the cacophony of a presidential election, and hoped a second measure devoted only to the surtax would be more successful.[5] However, by 2007 the sales tax in Escambia County had risen another half-percent to 7.5%, and many homeowners continued to face increases in both property taxes and windstorm insurance.

The Community Maritime Park, which survived a voter referendum a year earlier, was frequently cited as a foil for the AccessEscambia proposal. Nancy Fetterman, widow of Vice Admiral Jack Fetterman, publicly endorsed both projects.

References[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Supervisor of Elections unofficial results
  2. About AccessEscambia
  3. "Opponent says tax would be a burden" - Pensacola News Journal, June 17, 2007.
  4. "No tax increase to provide basic health care for needy." Pensacola News Journal, November 3, 2004.
  5. "Health tax up to voters." Pensacola News Journal, June 17, 2007.