Gerrymandering scheme backfires


Doesn’t sound like much has changed in Columbia, Missouri, since I lived there in the 1960s. Columbia, a city of about 117,000 people, is home to the University of Missouri and two other colleges; and many local business owners have prospered by exploiting the tens of thousands of students comprise the bulk of the city’s population.

Some of them wanted business district improvements, but didn’t want to pay for them with increased property taxes, so they formed a local improvement district to levy a half-cent sales tax, which would effectively shift those costs to the businesses’ customers, who are mostly students.

The business owners’ underhanded scheme to tax the city’s student population for business district improvements is obvious enough, but here’s where it gets a little complicated. The sales tax has to be approved by voters. If it isn’t, the property tax increase kicks in by default.

To make sure the sales tax wouldn’t lose, the business owners gerrymandered the improvement district so it contained no voters, or so they thought. This would allow them to choose the sales tax option instead of the property tax option.

Ooops. They left one voter in the improvement district. She’s a student. She — and she alone, as the district’s only voter — will get to decide whether the business district improvements are paid for by higher sales taxes or higher property taxes.

Read the story here.

Postscript:  American author Thorsten Veblen allegedly once described Columbia, Missouri, as “the woodpecker hole in a rotten stump called Missouri.” I couldn’t agree with him more.  I could tell you all kinds of stories about what Columbia was like in the 1960s, none of them flattering. My best experience in Columbia was leaving.

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