Qualls rethinks tax hike
Sunday, August 2, 1998

Well, it would seem the first pseudo-issue of the 1st Congressional District race may be behind us.

Pseudo-issues are the rhetorical holograms that candidates for public office conjure these days when there is little else to talk about, and a good one appeared to be brewing for incumbent Republican Steve Chabot.

You see, Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls, his Democratic opponent, had until recently been one of five Cincinnati council members who were prepared to raise the city's admissions tax on sporting events, concerts etc. to raise the $100 million the city had promised to the Cincinnati Public Schools as part of the stadium construction agreement.

What this meant was that the tax on a $10 ticket to a Reds game or a show at the Aronoff Center -- assuming you could find one that cheap -- would have gone from 27 cents to 43 cents, a whopping 16-cent increase.

Now, this may not strike you as the kind of confiscatory tax imposed by a greedy, all-powerful government that would cause you to disguise yourself as an Indian, sneak down to the riverfront at night and dump cartons of Hanson CDs into the Ohio River in protest.

In fact, you might not notice it at all.

But Cincinnati's "entertainment industry" sure did, including the Bengals, the concert promoters and everybody else who sells tickets for a living.

They screamed like stuck pigs, and the anti-tax crowd, who seemed to think this was the 20th century version of the Stamp Act, joined in the chorus.

They sent out hordes of people carrying clipboards to grocery stores and street corners to gather signatures for a petition to repeal a tax that had yet to be imposed.

Over at Chabot campaign headquarters, they could barely control their glee; they were dreaming of a fall campaign chock-full of Chabot campaign commercials banging on Ms. Qualls as a tax-and-spend liberal whose answer to every knotty problem was to raise taxes.

The Democrats in Washington, who are desperately trying to win back control of the House this fall, were yanking out clumps of hair, dumbfounded that their dream candidate would start her congressional campaign by coming out for a tax increase.

Ms. Qualls may have been born at night, but it wasn't last night. She got the picture.

The mayor-cum-candidate licked her index finger, thrust it boldly into the breeze and decided that maybe there was a better way of doing this, without raising the admissions tax.

So, after a few weeks of negotiations with the entertainment and sports industry crowd, she came up with a new deal for the schools. The ticket-tax increase was gone, but the city would dip into its general-fund surpluses to the tune of $16 million, even though Ms. Qualls seemed to indicate a few weeks ago that that was not feasible.

They kept the part about applying the 2.1 percent earnings tax to visiting entertainers and athletes; no one objects to soaking the rich and famous except maybe the rich and famous. Somebody like Jimmy Buffett, after all, should be made to pay, just on general principle, and no one would mind seeing a Greg Maddux leave something behind when he comes to town to blow away the Reds.

The plan may or may not fly with the rest of Cincinnati City Council, but it does, for the moment at least, get Ms. Qualls off the hook and makes the Chabot campaign rethink its strategy. They could still beat on her as a tax-and-spend Democrat, but she has certainly blunted the attack.

The Chabot camp could, and probably will, take credit for getting Ms. Qualls off the admissions tax increase; once again, the anti-tax congressman has stopped the barbarians at the gate and saved the taxpayers' hard-earned money.

Sixteen cents worth, to be exact.

Don't spend it all in one place.

Howard Wilkinson's politics column appears on Sundays. He can be reached at 768-8388; or by e-mail: hwilkinsonenquirer.com