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Such a big tax hike deserves a binding referendum

OK, let me get this straight. We are in the midst of the biggest economic downturn in the last 60 years and the Gwinnett County Commission proposed a 25 percent tax increase of one of the most regressive parts of the tax system, the property tax?

Not even the Republicans in Congress had that much hubris at the height of their power. The attempt to dress it up as a move to bolster public safety is dubious at best. Remember that these funds could be pulled from public safety at any time by the same three-vote majority that is needed to raise our property taxes in the first place.

Only a dedicated tax, approved in a referendum, can be protected from a later county commission vote wanting to send that money to other pet projects. That is not what was proposed. And while the proposal was voted down, the debate over the raising of the millage rate is expected to continue as the county struggles to cut $75 million from its budget; the commissioners and county manager said as much.

My colleague, State Sen. Don Balfour, is openly worried that such a move could jeopardize Republican control of Gwinnett County. While I understand why the Republican Chair of the Senate Rules Committee would be concerned about that, I have a slightly different concern. That is, how do we protect seniors and working families, those hardest hit by the recession, from such a large increase?

If you are on a fixed income, or live off a now-decimated 401(k), or simply live paycheck to paycheck as many of us in Gwinnett are having to do these days, how do you stomach such a tax spike without a guarantee it's going to actually go to the promised services?

Paying for more police protection is perfectly reasonable. My district is the one with the highest crime rate in Gwinnett County. My district would most benefit from the police protection being proposed.

That said, the communities in my district deserve a say in whether we raise taxes to pay for this level of police protection. And they deserve to know for a fact that if they agree to purchase police protection with higher property taxes, they are going to get what they pay for.

If the county commission is serious about increased police protection, they ought to put the idea any proposal for a tax increase they claim is to add public safety officers on the ballot as referendum binding them to use if for the purpose they are using to justify it. This way the voters can decide, and if the voters choose to approve the tax increase, they will be guaranteed the police protection they are paying for.

Curt Thompson is a state senator from Norcross.