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Tea Party’s Tom Lawrence, Back to His Roots, Endorses ½-Cent Sales Tax Before 135 Partiers

| April 20, 2012

Not quite taxed enough: Tom Lawrence, chairman of the Flagler County Tea Party Group, explaining his support of a sales surtax to the tea party membership Thursday evening. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

It was a priceless image, one of several ironies that routinely make tea party events the captivating phenomena they’ve been across the country for two years.

Tom Lawrence, the chairman of the Flagler County Tea Party Group, was addressing 135 faithfuls toward the end of the group’s monthly meeting at Flagler Palm Coast High School’s cafeteria. He was wearing  his usual blue t-shirt and its “Taxed Enough Already?” tag line. And he was telling his silent audience in no uncertain terms to lobby local politicians, particularly Palm Coast City Council members, to keep a pair of half-cent sales tax supplements on the books come election time, going so far as to call a quarter of the tax a “gift” that out of towners pay.

“We ought to be lobbying our elected officials to redo that,” Lawrence told the crowd, “because think about this: when you go to Volusia, when you go to St. Johns, you buy something, the sales tax is always around 7 percent, right? So they have enacted two one-half cent sales tax options. So we’re paying it to their governments. When they come here, they pay it to our governments, and it will save us a lot of money.”

It was the first indication that the local tea party, whose influence in local elections and initiatives cannot be understated despite its diminishing numbers and enthusiasm, would back not only the half-cent sales tax that has added $40 million to the school district’s revenue over the past 10 years, but also the more contentious half-cent sales tax that has added an equal amount to the revenues of the county and Flagler’s cities.

The county commission wants the tax renewed, chiefly to pay for a new jail and to refurbish the old courthouse to give the sheriff’s office roomier headquarters. The Palm Coast City Council is resisting, because it’s unhappy with the way the county’s proposed formula would split the money. If the county has its way, Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, Bunnell and Beverly Beach would get $7 million less over the next 10 years than under the existing formula. That money would go to the county. The county argues it’s only fair, because it would pay for a crucial law enforcement need that serves the whole county. Palm Coast doesn’t buy the argument, with its mayor, Jon nets, saying the county should bear its responsibilities like a grown-up, and assume tax responsibilities on its own.

The tug of war is endangering the success of the sales tax renewal, and even tainting the school board’s initiative, even though all local governments support that one without reserve. Curiously, the county and the city have scheduled a joint workshop on May 22—but only to discuss transportation impact fees, which are not related to the tax matter. A less defined countywide “task force” is being organized to address the sales tax conflict.

Nate McLaughlin was the only county commissioner at the tea party meeting Thursday evening. He liked what he heard from Lawrence, and said that as groups like the tea party endorse the sales tax, the Palm Coast council’s resistance would be diminished, or sidelined, with voters making the choice for the county.

What Lawrence never told his audience was that he was the architect of the 2002 version of the sales surtax, when he championed it—and sold it to voters—when he served as a Palm Coast City Council member. He also used some numbers that have not been verified.

“Here’s the key: that’s $80 million over the last decade in our county, 25 percent of that was paid by people who do not live in this county,” Lawrence said. “Let me repeat this: 25 percent of that, or $20 million, was donated to our local governments by visitors to our county. The work that was done with this money had to be done. In the city of Palm Coast, we resurfaced over 500 miles of road. That work was going to get done. So we got a gift of $20 million.”

Asked after the meeting where he got the 25 percent figure, Lawrence said it was the figure he;d known a decade ago when he was pushing the sales tax, and the figure he was hearing county and city officials use these days, though he could not cite a more precise source. The figure may have more lore than fact behind it, particularly as Lawrence acknowledged that Flagler and Palm Coast residents also spend sales tax dollars in St. Johns and Volusia County. If anything, because of Flagler’s nature as a bedroom community for St. Johns and Volusia, local residents likely spend more sales tax dollars outside the county than they receive from visitors. Whatever the actual net effect may be, there is no such thing as a “gift” approaching anything like $20 million, when Flagler residents’ spending outside the county is figured in.

Lawrence also did not speak of where the county’s portion of the sales tax revenue was spent over the past 10 years: between the sales tax revenue, some of it bonded, and an additional $33 million bond levy county voters approved in 2004, the county reaped $65 million, using the bulk of it to build the new courthouse and administration building on State Road 100, the latter earning the enduring nickname of “potato palace” for its splurging design.

Lawrence, speaking to the group, was just as positively against another proposal: “The other option that the city is talking about is imposing a tax on the electric utility bill,” Lawrence said. “We’re going to be lobbying against that, because we pay 100 percent of that. OK? And some of the early elected officials in Palm Coast said they would not do that. I think we ought to hold them to that word.”

The accountant Ken Mazzie provided the other irony of the tea party’s evening as he went around distributing his campaign literature. He’s running for county clerk of court, against incumbent Gail Wadsworth, making Wadsworth’s supervision of the courthouse funds a centerpiece of his criticism of her tenure, though it’s not clear how much traction that’s getting: Mazzie ran against Wadsworth four years ago, making similar claims, and lost, with Wadsworth getting 56 percent of the vote. Mazzie ran as a Democrat back then. He’s running as a Republican this time.

Mazzie was one of just five political candidates at the meeting Thursday evening. The others were Richard Clark, the Jacksonville Republican running for the newly created congressional district that covers Flagler County, Ray Stevens, one of three Republicans running  for sheriff (John Pollinger, another Republican in that race, was holding a meet-and-greet at the Palm Coast Community Center at the same time), Travis Hutson, the Republican running for the state House, and Charlie Ericksen, a Republican candidate challenging County Commissioner Alan Peterson. Bill Kogut, a Republican running for the congressional seat, was also there, but the seriousness of his candidacy is suspect.

After the meeting, Lawrence described his support of the sales tax initiatives as a “no-brainer,” and said he sensed no negative reaction from the crowd. When he asked for questions or comments on the matter from the assembly on the matter, he got none. Lawrence said he’ll likely poll the tea party membership on the sales tax question.

14 Responses for “Tea Party’s Tom Lawrence, Back to His Roots, Endorses ½-Cent Sales Tax Before 135 Partiers”

  1. SAW says:

    So let’s get this right, Mr.Lawrence is standing in front of his ever shrinking audience wearing a “Taxed Enough Already” t – shirt and advocating for the extension of a tax ? It’s hard to figure out who is more naive here Mr.Lawrence or his audience, very strange indeed.

  2. Layla says:

    Somebody told me that Lawrence was doing local commercials for the tax money to build the County Government Building. Is this true? If so, then there is much his members do not know about him.

    This local tea party has not done a lot other than assist local political races. That may be why their membership is dwindling, if it is dwindling. Others in the area are much more active.

    It is tough to be effective at anything when you appear to have become a tool of some of the local politicans, the chamber or those wanting to run for office. It’s a shame, really.

    A “no brainer” huh? Pretty good…..selling a tax increase to a tea party! Will wonders never cease.

    • The Honest One Says says:

      Layla, you hit the nail on the head. Tom Lawrence is not a TRUE tea party person. How could he be, when he is in bed with the Chamber of Commerce and all the devious politicians running this county. Lawrence has his own agenda and that is not with the tea party people.

  3. Yellowstone says:

    Aha! The wolf in sheep’s clothing. Now they are talking . . . Just like their opposition – these guys are in disguise. The ‘no new taxes” mantra is beginning to wear thin it seems.

    These Tbaggers know exactly what they are up to . . . (or do you suppose not?)

  4. Biker says:

    Wow Strange turn of events.

  5. BW says:

    I think after this election you will see this group and the Sarah Palins fade away with the GOP. It’s apparent after a couple years of this that the game is over and the marketing ploys haven’t worked. And the hypocrisy has shines through. All of which has simply hurt the Republican reputation a great deal.

  6. jimmythebull says:

    i will be voting against the tax. if we can get it on the ballot, i will be voting to unincorporate the city of palm coast.

  7. palmcoaster says:

    @thebullfjimmy. I will be voting for the half cent tax because is needed for the schools and the students and hoping that the incumbents on the board “that voted for uniforms” will not be re-elected. Also I will vote yes for this tax under ONE condition that the splits stay put as is now, for the City of Palm Coast that is the one having to sustain 839.9 residents per square mile versus the county 197 per square mile. The county receives already double the revenue than the city receives, undermining our Palmcoasters services and they even want more?
    I would vote to unincorporated the county government if I could, that is the only one building castles to themselves with the city of Palm Coast taxpayers revenue. The only way to go about it is with the ballot and “a la Jacksonville Duval” or “a la Miami Dade” if the county commissioners not only stop demanding more of our taxes or furthermore do not share of what we currently overpaid to them and shift it to Palm Coast. In my house tax bill, I pay the county almost double to what I pay the City of Palm Coast, including their 3 bond lines for the “lavish capital improvements”. What about if they use half of the Justice Center put some partitions to house the non violent inmates waiting trial? Maybe then those court procedures will go much faster….and the jail crowd will be resolved!
    Lawrence has only one boss and is not the Tea Party or its membership. His real boss is the local Chamber, the one that could help him get elected to a local government position in the near future.

  8. Ella says:

    Pass the sales tax and keep the split the way it is. It is better than being taxed twice. Tom, interesting backing of the tax but good to have support of people that understand why we need to renew them.

  9. tulip says:

    @ella——I agree with you. The County, cities and towns, need money to run them. By keeping the sales tax, visitors and tourist will also pay a sales tax here, and that will help us.. If keeping the tax gets voted down, our other taxes will go up to make up for it. At least that’s how I understand it.

  10. palmcoaster says:

    @Tulip. You understand it correct!
    Would be correct and fair also that these county commissioners stop asking for more $$ than they are already “over shared” from our home taxes. Leave the split as is, enough of castles to themselves on our hard earned taxes.

  11. PC Citizen says:

    To the uninformed, the City is considering another source of revenue if the current sales tax is not extended. Namely, a tax on our electric bill. This utility tax, I believe, would be a severe burden for all of us. Again, the sales tax referenced is already in effect and would be extended. THIS IS NOT A NEW TAX but a tax on your utilitly bill will be.

  12. SAW says:

    Say NO any chance you get to any extended, or new tax being proposed .

    Don’t fall for this same old line which Mr.Lawrence and others will now attempt to spin. After all the real issue here is the out of control often unnecessary reckless spending currently taking place, all of which is administered by your very own elected officials.

  13. The Honest One Says says:

    The gas tax should stay as it is. People, they are not increasing the tax just keeping it where it is. It expires this year and if you do not vote for it, you will certainly see your property taxes go up next year. The county should be watched under a magnifying glass as to all the spending they are doing and all the government grants they are and have gotten. Do you people realize that there are attactments with government grants. The county has to match every dollar we get from grants. Where do you think that money is coming from. Your pocket book. The county commissioners are spending our taxes without you even knowing what it is going for. We should have a referendum on the ballot to vote on all their big expenditures.

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