Why voters should say "No" to Project Destiny
Brian Gongol

A group backing a plan they call Project Destiny wants to raise taxes by stealth in the Des Moines area. While their vision (more parks, more cultural programs, lower property taxes) is surely agreeable, the proposal is bad policy.

Project Destiny would raise taxes

It's a stealth tax hike. They promise that by raising the local-option sales tax by one cent per dollar, local government can use two-thirds of the new sales-tax revenue to lower property taxes.

But that still means raising net taxes by that unaccounted-for one-third that's left over.

Project Destiny amounts to double-taxation

It's a double-jeopardy tax: Money we spend on sales taxes comes from our take-home pay that's already been subjected to income taxes. Property taxes are generally deductible from the income tax, meaning those dollars come out of pre-tax income. So for someone in the 25% marginal tax bracket, shifting $1 from property taxes to sales taxes costs an additional $0.25 just in hidden Federal income tax losses, plus up to another 8 cents in state income taxes. That's not efficient, and it's certainly not "tax relief".

Project Destiny isn't the kind of cooperation the metro area needs

All the talk about Project Destiny promises more cooperation among the communities in Dallas, Polk, and Warren Counties. But they would create this "cooperation" by establishing a new 15-member appointed panel who would then decide how to distribute the money. What kind of cooperation is it for fifteen unelected officials to decide what to do with $25.5 million dollars? What kind of accountability is that?

It's already possible for communities to cooperate regionally without creating new layers of government -- West Des Moines, Clive, and Urbandale have already voluntarily created the joint Westcom 911 dispatch center in order to save money and deliver better service. Even with cooperation, though, Clive and Urbandale have had disputes over whether Urbandale is abusing Clive's help in mutual-aid responses to emergencies. Magnify the scope of that kind of problem over $25 million and a whole bunch of local communities, and it's possible to see what kind of disputes Project Destiny could create rather than resolve.

There's nothing wrong with voluntary cooperation in a community or among metropolitan governments. But Project Destiny is a first step towards a city-county merger and "metropolitan government" that would probably be disastrous.