Home rule is good for all

Published 9:56 pm Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How would you feel if your property taxes increased because people in other counties voted for it, yet the majority of people in your own county opposed it? Probably a lot like those who live within the Madison City School District in Limestone County after the general election.

Voters statewide approved a 10.5 mill property tax increase for Limestone County residents who live within the district, even though more than 61 percent of voters in the county rejected the measure, the Associated Press reported recently.

An unofficial count showed the ballot issue known as Amendment Three passed statewide with 50.4 percent “yes” to 49.6 percent “no.” There was a less than 8,700-vote margin of approval out of more than 1.1 million votes cast.

This means the owner of a home valued at $300,000 will have to pay roughly $315 more per year or about $26 a month in ad valorem taxes.

An almost identical amendment failed in 2004 because it was defeated in Limestone County as a local amendment. This time, however, the local vote was not the deciding factor.

The tax affects two counties, both Limestone and Madison. Until now, however, only voters living in the Madison County portion of the district were paying the tax.

Limestone residents who opposed the tax were concerned that its passage could result in future tax increases by the City of Madison without their vote being heard.

The result of this vote brings up the issue of home rule. Home rule basically means that local governments have control over what they can do, especially in the nature of passing taxes and similar measures. Currently, counties in Alabama cannot pass these type measures without it going through the state legislature and being approved via statewide referendum.

As it stands, the tax increase has passed. The question is, should governments such as the City of Madison be able to sidestep local voters to pass a tax increase approved by voters statewide? It may be legal, but is it ethical?