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Munroe tax supporters must find ways to turn negatives into positives

Senior editor/city desk

Ocala, FL - September 9, 2012
Published: Sunday, September 9, 2012 at 6:30 a.m.

Supporters of the one-mill tax to support Munroe Regional Medical Center face an uphill battle. Of course they do: No one wants to pay more taxes.

To prevail, supporters must make some factors positive instead of negative.

High voter turnout: This is a presidential election year and Florida is a battleground state. The polls will be packed.

Times are tough, and voters might understandably vote "no" on anything that increases their taxes directly (through their property tax bill) or indirectly (through their rent).

In short: More voters could mean more "no" votes.

Then again, more voters also means more people who have had an experience with Munroe. This could help tax supporters, who tout the hospital's quality and community roots.

Tax proponents also could embrace this high-turnout election as an honorable challenge.

The School Board put its tax questions on the Aug. 14 primary ballot, which predictably drew a low turnout. Supporters could target faithful voters and rely on built-in constituencies.

The strategy almost worked, at least for the half-mill operations tax: If turnout had been a bit higher in the pro-tax precincts, that measure could have passed.

The Munroe question, by contrast, is on the Nov. 6 ballot, which everyone knows will have a huge turnout. This vote will be as comprehensive a test as you can get.

That should be worth some goodwill.

Weak ballot: Aside from president, there are few barn-burner races.

This might decrease voters' interest in local issues, leaving them disengaged on the tax issue and, by default, more likely to vote no.

Then again, tax proponents can fill the enthusiasm vacuum with pro-Munroe, pro-tax information. This already is happening, with guest columns, billboards and other outreach.

The school taxes lost: Surely this is a sign of anti-tax sentiment and spells doom for hospital tax proponents.

Then again, these losses make for a clean slate on Nov. 6: The hospital tax would be the only additional millage on future tax bills.

Skepticism: People don't oppose taxes, per se. They oppose taxes they consider unfair or excessive. They especially dislike throwing good money after bad โ€” an oft-stated (if debatable) reason the school taxes fell short.

So, voters are wary of how government spends tax dollars.

But tax proponents can correctly point out the contrast: The hospital tax isn't about government. It's different.

It's about a community asset โ€” a very important one โ€” and how that asset will be secured for the future.

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