Monday, May 19, 2014

Attleboro City Council - Eat Your Spinach

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on May 19, 2014.
By Bill Gouveia


            After a steady diet of politics and posturing, the Attleboro City Council is preparing to sit down at the table and digest the issue of whether or not to institute a local meals tax of ¾ of one percent on restaurant tabs. 

            Here’s hoping they stop talking in circles and just eat their spinach.

            If there has ever been a no-brainer issue before the council, this is it.  Faced with shrinking revenues and rising costs, the city clearly needs money. 

That money is not going to come from the state, which has refused to provide an even higher rate of aid.  It is not going to come from local businesses, which are struggling to survive in a slowly-recovering economic climate.  And it is not going to be raised solely on the backs of residential property taxpayers who still find themselves looking for jobs that pay the bills.

Everyone knows there has to be some kind of revenue increase.  Call it a tax, call it a fee, or call it whatever other catchy phrase makes you feel good.  City residents need the services they now have, and you need the money to provide them.  Step up to your plates and swallow this distasteful political meal.

Many other communities around Attleboro have already adopted this tax out of necessity.  It will not put a burden on the city’s restaurants and eateries, as their competition in several neighboring towns are already dealing with it.  It has had little to no impact on business in those areas, and there is zero reason to believe it will serve as any kind of detriment to Attleboro establishments.

I know, it’s a tax.  Taxes are bad.  Nobody likes them.  It is not politically expedient or wise to enact them, especially on a local level.  People can’t afford any type of increase.  They should cut all the “fat” out of the city budget before proposing to take so much as a nickel out of the pockets of citizens.  Agreed on all points.

But this is down to basics here, and it is time to set aside the rhetoric and ideological philosophies.  Attleboro’s schools need funding and improvement.  Any objective review of the facts shows this to be true.  And since the state is not going to bail the city out this year, it is incumbent upon the council and the government to start solving their own problems. 

Mayor Dumas has said he will dedicate the added revenue from the meals tax to pay for schools.  This won’t solve all the problems facing education in Attleboro, but it is a good start.  It shows city officials are serious about doing more than talking about how dire the situation is.

And let’s face it – this is hardly an oppressive tax.  If you take your family out for a nice meal in one of Attleboro’s better restaurants and spend $100, you will pay an extra 75 cents in taxes.  If you are an elderly person on a fixed incoming going out to treat yourself to breakfast for $10, you will pay an additional 7-1/2 cents. 

This move is not going to prevent people from paying their rents or heating their homes.  Yes, it all adds up.  But the children of the city are worth this.

And by instituting the meals tax, officials actually thin the burden on their constituents.  Many people who do not live in Attleboro still eat in the many fine establishments there, and thus will be contributing to the taxes collected. 

Attleboro councilors have no problem taking additional aid when it flows from the state.  Where do they think that money comes from?  It stems from all the good taxpayers across the Commonwealth who are paying for things all over the state.  The meals tax is not all that different.

Some councilors have said they are “torn” over this issue.  Those poor, tortured souls should somehow manage to pull themselves together and do their job.  This is a first step in establishing fiscal stability.

The time for politics and creating political cover is over.  This is not about image, it is about education.  You may not like it, but you know it’s good for you.

Eat your spinach. 

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a longtime local official.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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