Re: Meals tax; B.J. Lawson vs. David Price; Borda system | Letters to the Editor | Indy Week

Columns » Letters to the Editor

Re: Meals tax; B.J. Lawson vs. David Price; Borda system


Meals tax best option for funding improvements

In response to the letter by a Chapel Hill resident chastising the Indy for endorsing the penny on the dollar meals tax (Back Talk, Oct. 22), it is clear both sides, pro and con, have been equally concerned about the fairness to lower-income households. Beyond ideology or conventional wisdom, there is compelling evidence from economists that the meals tax is actually less regressive on lower-income households than the property tax—which also impacts renters and is a much larger proportion of income.

Durham voters are simply being given a choice of whether they want to use the penny on the dollar tax on prepared meals (not groceries) to shift 40 percent of the cost of these improvements to non-residents, including millions of visitors and 101,000 commuters, few if any of whom are low-income and all of whom enjoy these amenities. To do so could free up property tax revenue to better fund core uses, like reducing poverty.

Or do voters want to have Durham residents shoulder the entire cost of these improvements?

So pro or con, this argument isn't about who's socially just and who isn't. If anything, the Raleigh sources bankrolling the opposition are being disingenuous. They are the same sources that helped Raleigh and Charlotte push this same tax through without so much as a vote and also during an economic downturn. They are also on record as reversing support for meals taxes out of resentment that the legislature lowered the tax on groceries, a tax that was truly unfair.

Respectfully, Durham voters are perfectly able to sort through this without a lot of interference and obfuscation from outsiders, the majority of whom pay this same tax where they live but don't want to pay it in Durham.

Reyn Bowman, President & CEO
Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau

Meals tax buys pork

There is another good reason to vote against the food tax, in addition to those mentioned in your article ("Food fight," by Vernal Coleman, Oct. 8) and Frank Hyman's letter (Back Talk, Oct. 15). The food tax projects are dominated by the Minor League Baseball Museum ($14 million) and an extension of the Hayti Heritage Center ($14 million), two projects that would never be on any objective needs assessment for what our city really needs. Failure to maintain and repair Durham's streets, buildings and equipment for core city services has reached urgent levels of needed spending just as the economic downturn will result in lower levels of property and sales tax income. I don't want my food taxed to pay for pork.

Worse, the food tax projected revenue stream will be used to secure more borrowing. If we vote this tax in, we'll be required to keep it for at least the 20-year life of the certificates of participation. And what if we hit really tough economic times, and the tax collected is not enough to pay for the money borrowed? Our city council has already surpassed borrowing levels historically considered prudent.

In essence, the food tax allows our elected officials to open up a brand new line of credit, and they have already told us they are going to use it for more of the same: glitzy special interest projects that do not benefit most of our citizens, while core infrastructure and equipment is left to crumble.

The food tax just enables our elected officials to continue business as usual. Take away their credit card. Vote no on the prepared meals tax.

Daya Breckinridge

Thanks for Lawson profile

As someone who grew up in the Fourth Congressional District, I was delighted to see a fair-minded and serious appraisal of B.J. Lawson's candidacy, especially considering how out to lunch The News & Observer has been about one of the most interesting and impressive challengers from either party in this election cycle.

Hopefully many of your readers will be intrigued enough by the article ("B.J. Lawson, the hybrid candidate," by Lisa Sorg, Oct. 15) to go out and learn a bit more about this compelling and genuine candidate.

Jeremy Carl
Palo Alto, Calif.

Staying with David Price

Your article about B.J. Lawson ("B.J. Lawson, the hybrid candidate," by Lisa Sorg, Oct. 15) has certainly gotten my attention. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the state Democratic executive committee and oppose the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility (NBAF). For Democrats (or progressive independents) to support Lawson is like gambling the mortgage payment at the county fair.

It is easy to dissect the record of an accomplished sitting congressman and find things to disagree with. Lawson has no comparable record that we can examine.

U.S. Rep. David Price was an early opponent of the Iraq war. He has worked to rein in abuses by private military contractors in Iraq. He authored legislation to reform public financing for presidential campaigns. He supports reproductive rights and equality for gay and lesbian folks. Price was able to block the unwise location of a U.S. Navy landing strip next to the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

I do not agree with Price on every aspect of his distinguished record, including his views on the NBAF. I trust that North Carolina common sense will flow from Price to the Department of Homeland Security rather than DHS's corrupt and dysfunctional nonsense flowing the other way. But I am not about to reject Price in favor of an inexperienced, anti-choice doctrinaire Republican who could not provide us with effective representation. Lawson would unravel much of the social infrastructure and the public-private partnerships that we take for granted in modern society.

I am voting for Barack Obama and want there to be a wide Democratic margin in Congress so he can implement his programs efficiently.

I occasionally admire fringe candidates (having been one myself), and with half a million dollars, they may shake up the system, but we should not take a chance with our congressional representation.

Milo Pyne

Borda system flawed

Donald Saari is wrong when he says "the system that most accurately reflects the views of the voters is the Borda count" (Q&A, Oct. 15). It is just not true that the Borda count is superior in all respects to all conceivable voting systems. In fact, different voting systems optimize different considerations.

Saari's beer, wine and milk example is chosen to make the Borda system look good. As applied in this case, the Borda system assumes that voters would be "half as happy" if their second choice won instead of their first choice, since they get weights of 1 and 2 respectively.

Often that is not true, and instead, in some situations voters strongly prefer their first choices over their second and third choices, and they would be very unhappy to have their first choices defeated by their second choices. One advantage of the instant runoff system (or its multi-seat version known variously as "preference voting," "choice voting" or "single transferable vote") that the Borda system does not have is that under the instant run-off system you can influence the contest between your second and third choices without worrying that in doing so you might hurt the prospects of your first choice. has lots of good information on voting systems.

Ned Kennington

Add a comment