Cory Noonan managed to work a Ronald Reagan reference into the closing of his speech Friday before the Allen County Republican Party. George H.W. Bush might have been more appropriate. Or Dan Reiff.All Republicans want to be Reagan. But four of the five Republicans running to be Allen County commissioner appear to be putting themselves in corners that Bush and Reiff occupied: They promise not to raise taxes — “Read my lips” — but the realities of governing forced them to do so anyway.Of the five running for two commissioner seats, Jay Begg is the only realist. The Allen County Fair manager advocated a sales tax increase three years ago, so he can hardly run as an anti-tax candidate now. While Begg isn't pushing for a sales tax increase and he doesn't think there will be a need for it, he is honest enough to acknowledge the uncertainty of the future.Meeting with The Lima News editorial board and Begg, Lynn Mohler took a hard line. He said he would not vote to raise Allen County's sales tax. In the other race, Noonan, Paul Basinger and Dennis Fricke all gave variations of “Absolutely not!” to a sales tax increase. Noonan pointed out that he helped with the referendum to overturn the increase Reiff and Sam Bassitt tried to impose in 2009. So, no surprise, the Allen County Republican primary has four candidates who are blindly dead set against a tax increase. The fifth would be as rigid if only people would forget the recent past.It's Republican mantra to say government's problems could all be solved by belt-tightening. The candidates are also running against the perception that the incumbents haven't communicated well. A little more talk, better budgeting and a few more jobs, and Allen County will be out of the woods.It isn't that simple.There are a number of ways to show how significant the loss of state funds has been to local governments. For example, to replace $2 million in lost revenue strictly through property tax collection, Allen County would need $3.4 billion — that's with a B — in new property to tax at the rate those in the Shawnee school district pay, county Auditor Rhonda Eddy-Steinecker figured.For Lima to recoup $2 million, the city would need about $130 million in new payrolls to tax. City Finance Director Steve Cleaves says that means, roughly, three new Ford Motor Co. Lima Engine Plants or three new hospitals. The closing of Lima Correctional Institution in 2004 took with it a payroll of $20 million. You'd need six and a half replacement prisons — with unionized, government jobs — to bring in $2 million in new payroll taxes.Cleaves figures getting to that number would require more than 5,000 new retail jobs — in a county with total unemployment of less than 47,000 and a city with employment at about 15,000.Put simply, you won't fix Allen County's budget shortfalls with new jobs alone.Obviously, new jobs would bring both new income tax for the city and new property tax for the county. They also likely would mean more retail spending in the county, and that is the key to any budget fix. Allen County's 1 percent sales tax — on top of Ohio's 5.5 percent — brings in half of Allen County's revenue. If the candidates really want to patch a budget and talk jobs, they'd put at least as much effort into getting a Target as they do a new manufacturer.But, no matter what retail options Allen County adds, sales here are still largely a function of the national and state economies. You need only look back a few years to see that's the case. Allen County brought in more than $14.74 million in sales tax in 2007. The national economy began softening in 2008, and Allen County's sales tax dropped to $14.06 million.The economy crashed in 2009, and Allen County's tax collection dropped another $1 million. That forced Reiff to reverse himself on raising the sales taxes as the recession became worse than any since the Great Depression.The five Republicans who now want to be commissioner might assume a rebounding economy will protect them from facing a choice as drastic as Reiff did. Sales tax collections have climbed enough to make you think so.Five-dollars-a-gallon gas — $60 to fill up a small car — says that the recovery might not hold. And any slowdown caused by $5 gas over the summer would be hammering Allen County's budget shortly before the two new commissioners take office.They might feel a lot differently about a sales tax increase then.
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