Cedar Rapids voters, those who bothered to show at the polls, sent some pretty clear messages tonight as they approved a one-cent local option sales tax for flood recovery efforts.
First, a clear majority of voters showed that they understand the scope of the problems still facing this flood-battered city.
In the end, serious misgivings about a higher sales tax and mistrust of city leadership were no match for a recognition of the massive, costly rebuilding/recovery effort that remains. It was a victory for future hopes over present anxieties.
(Of course, it was also a good night for apathy. Only one-in-four Cedar Rapids voters showed up at the polls.)
Still, I hope city officials are smart enough to heed the anger and disappointment they heard from residents on both sides of the issue during this campaign. We now need a decisive and transparent process for spending this tax money wisely, and as promised.
Citizens will be watching closely to see if it’s truly spent on “housing, housing, housing.”
Mayor Kay Halloran, who will appoint a citizens’ review committee to watch over how the money is spent, said tonight she’s willing to consider putting tax opponents on the panel. Most of all, she wants flood victims to serve. Both steps would send a good signal.
Tonight’s other big message was for Des Moines and Washington D.C.
Local voters were repeatedly told they needed to step up and put “skin in the game” to show state and national leaders that Cedar Rapids is serious about recovery. The skin’s now in, so it’s their turn now to step up with needed resources. No more excuses, no more delay.
They did get the news. Gov. Chet Culver sent his congratulations soon after the votes were counted and pledged to work toward recovery.
Elsewhere, local voters shot down the sales tax.
It wasn’t all that shocking that sales tax measures failed in places such as Marion, Hiawatha and Robins. Take flood needs out of the equation, and you’re simply trying to pass a sales tax increase in the middle of a severe economic downturn. That’s a tough sell that didn’t sell.
Defeat in those towns actually means that Cedar Rapids will get a bigger take from its sales tax increase through the state ‘s distribution formula.
I was also struck tonight at how the tax was effectively sold to Cedar Rapids voters in a matter of weeks. I think that sort of undermines the idea that you need six to nine months of public input before you make an important decision, like how to proceed on city buildings. Just a thought.