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Spin and Timing–To Riley, just convenient labels for Smoke and Mirrors
Lee Walton

It was no coincidence that property tax bills arrived from the County Auditor the same day as Mayor Riley’s latest Palter and Chatter laudator, David Slade, authored a slick little shirttail to spin a positive outcome for Charleston’s latest budget woes and all but forgotten Riley-sponsored December, 2007 property tax increase. If City taxpayers had read only the headline and opening paragraph of Sunday’s “City on target with 2008 budget” write-up, they would have been left with the impression that the City of Charleston stands high on a shimmering fiscal hill while “… some area governments reduce staff and increase taxes because of financial problems…” That’s the exact impression this little pseudo-journalistic sop was intended to have on those of us who struggle with stagnant wages to pay ever-increasing living expenses in these troubled times.

Regardless of Slade’s efforts to disguise the cold, hard facts, the City of Charleston took a 51.1 % bite out of the consolidated property tax bills most city taxpayers received this past weekend. In spite of the new state sales tax generated “State Property Tax Relief Benefit”, City taxpayers saw their taxes increase by about 11.3% this year; most of this was because of Riley’s 4.5% property tax increase for the current 2008 budget year. Given the rapidly deteriorating conditions of the national, regional, and local economies, there is little doubt that Riley will again pressure his emasculated little band of bought-by-the-pound Council lackeys to increase city property taxes once more late this December.

Even the Palter and Chatter’s Slade had to note that the City has suffered a combined loss of $2.35 million this year while facing an estimated increase of $1.45 million in health care costs alone next year. Strangely, Slade forgot to mention the millions spent this year to update Riley’s decades maligned CFD, the $1.85 million Riley paid at taxpayer’s expense to the owner of the Sofa Super Store site to buy his atonement for the unnecessary deaths of nine firefighters, or the recent, constitutionally illegal $734,500 bailout loan to the floundering College of the Building Arts.

Almost as if to set the stage for a coming December world-class Riley song-and-dance Council Chambers presentation, in Sunday’s article Slade begrudgingly, or more likely, purposefully, albeit subliminally, inferred that Riley “…hopes to avoid raising any taxes or fees for the 2009 budget year that starts Jan. 1 but has not yet ruled that out…” To further precondition City taxpayers of another impending twelfth-hour revelation, Slade concluded his piece with another bullet-biting warning – “While the city hopes to avoid a tax increase in 2009, property owners will see a higher tax rate when they open their bills this fall.”

If the taxpayers of Charleston have learned anything this past week from watching the irresponsible actions in Washington as the pork-laden bailout bill zipped through both houses of congress, it’s that the Riley Administration’s pork barrel spending on budget-busting monuments to his ego and bailouts to his unworthy patrons are just as reckless and just as likely to end in a spiraling propagation of increased spending with little, if any benefit to those who would be served.

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