The Voldemort Assessment

Josh Marshall likes the rabbinical metaphors, I like the abstinence sex ed metaphors, but it’s all the same thing: flying reverse back flip rhetoric designed to hide the fact that your taxes are going up. And it’s just not at the national level. Here in lovely, snowy Rochester NY, our county executive, fresh from a House race shellacking delivered unto her by 82 year-old Louise Slaughter, denies raising taxes, but:

The administration of Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks on Tuesday revealed plans to charge suburban property owners $5.3 million for snow and ice removal in 2013.

The charge will appear on the county tax bill next year as a separate line item and be based on the assessed valuation of property.

Administration officials estimated that property owners would pay $15 per $100,000 of assessed value.

According to Brooks’ spokesperson, it’s not a tax, it’s a “chargeback”. At least when libertarians want to nickel and dime government services, they’re up front about it.

Also, too: Politically, the funny thing about this is that suburban Republicans are Brooks’ constituency, but they’re also the target of her tax-increase-that-must-not-be-named.

31 replies
  1. 1
    jibeaux says:

    Huh, wikipedia describes a chargeback as “the return of funds to a consumer, forcibly initiated by the issuing bank of the instrument used by a consumer to settle a debt. Specifically, it is the reversal of a prior outbound transfer of funds from a consumer’s bank account, line of credit, or credit card.”

    What you’re describing really sounds like more of a tax. Weird.

  2. 2
    LittlePig says:

    Gracious! Actually paying for received government services! COMMUNIZSM!!

  3. 3
    Grincheuse says:

    That’s how we do things here in Orange County. We don’t have taxes, we have “fees”. We pay, for instance, a monthly “fee” to the city which covers ambulance service. I pay a fee to the city of Orange since that is where I live. However, if I’m in a car accident Santa Ana or Tustin not far from my housen or have to go to my covered hospital in Fountain Valley, guess what? Talk about stupid.

  4. 4
    Feudalism Now! says:

    It is not a tax. It is a fee. Has the Romney campaign so faded from our jaded eyes. Raising fee on certification that you are blind is not ‘raising filthy taxes’

  5. 5
    c u n d gulag says:

    This is something even Democrats can like:
    Higher “Chargebacks” for the rich!

    Despite that, why is it that I suspect that poorer “ethnic” neighborhoods, will be nose-high in snow until Spring?

  6. 6
    the Conster says:

    Why do I picture a balloon being squeezed?

  7. 7
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    How do you think Texas operates? We have very low taxes and fees on everything they can come up with.

  8. 8

    Thread title sounds like Robert Ludlum book title.

  9. 9
    Punchy says:

    @Feudalism Now!: A fee to me is a set amount charged to everyone. This is percent charge based on home value…..thats a friggin tax in my book.

  10. 10
    mikefromArlington says:

    Write a story on what Bob McDonnell, VA Gov is doing. He’s raising the gas tax but said it isn’t a tax increase when it ‘rises with economic activity.’

    Funny watching conservatives twisting and turning trying to convince themselves of this not being a tax increase.

  11. 11
    Face says:

    Related to tax increases:

    Watch and read Thomas Cole desperately try to wash the stink of lauditory Democratic comments off him before he’s primaried.

    From what I see, Dems ought to praise every “reasonable” Repub in Congress, just to watch them freak out and dance around.

  12. 12
    Nylund says:

    @LittlePig: Yeah, even the libertarians never seem to complain when they get free stuff from the gov’t that someone else paid for, it’s only when they have to pay up that it’s communism, even if they’re explicitly paying for a service rendered TO THEM. Reminds me of the article (forget which Libertarian) it was who compared having to stop and pay tolls at toll booths to having to bribe the military at checkpoints in countries run by corrupt military dictatorships. You’re like, “Wait, it’s a private road being paid for by the people who use it…isn’t that exactly what Libertarians (and many Republicans) want?!”

    What it really comes down to is that they hate paying for stuff. Not just stuff for other people, but also the stuff they receive. They scream Socialism, Communism, Marxism, or Fascism whenever anyone ask them for money even if it’s for goods and services they wanted and received. They won’t rest until they never have to pay a dime for anything. But it’s everyone else who’s a moocher looking for a free handout!

  13. 13
    MattF says:

    Same strategy as our local financial institutions– you get ‘free’ checking, but woe betide any sucker, um, ‘customer’, whose balance goes below the magic number.

  14. 14
    Mark S. says:

    Rick Warren makes the argument that since he doesn’t go around punching people in the nose, gays should be persecuted for their crimes. Also, just because homosexuality is natural doesn’t mean it’s good because arsenic is natural. What isn’t natural is a preacher making seven figures a year.

  15. 15
    VOR says:

    We saw this strategy in Minnesota under Pawlenty as Governor. He raised “fees”, but not taxes, oh good gracious no.

  16. 16
    keith says:

    It’s progress that they’re not asking norquist if it’s a tax first

  17. 17
    the Conster says:


    This is why libertarians will never ever be taken seriously. They’re a bunch of free riders screaming about tyranny.

  18. 18
    Feudalism Now! says:

    @Punchy: So a ‘flat tax’ would be a fee not tax. It is revenue for the government, it is a tax. The chicanery involved with shifting from a progressive scaled tax system to using regressive fees and flat rates, like sales tax, is what this bs is all about.

  19. 19
    mds says:

    @c u n d gulag:

    Despite that, why is it that I suspect that poorer “ethnic” neighborhoods, will be nose-high in snow until Spring?

    Superficially, this sounds like it would apply primarily to the more suburban towns of Monroe County. If there were lots of poorer “ethnic” neighborhoods, there wouldn’t have been any reason to move out there to begin with. Meanwhile, the City of Rochester and the adjacent Town of Brighton, for example, actually collect taxes in order to provide services like snow removal, so the county isn’t involved. It’s certain outlying McMansion subdivision towns that don’t provide their own town services, but mooch off of services paid for by the entire county, be it snow plowing, or be it police (relying exclusively on the county sheriff’s office).

    I must admit that, despite the cynical packaging, I’m pleasantly surprised by Brooks’ move. You wouldn’t have caught her predecessor Jack Doyle sticking it to the county Republican base by requiring them to pay more of their share. That’s why I can’t help feeling that there must be a catch somewhere.

  20. 20
    gypsy howell says:

    I dunno. Maybe changing the system from an overall tax to a line-item fee structure would be good for this country. Then we’d see exactly how much we spend on every little, and big, thing. Might force us to put our taxes in line with our priorities.

    Imagine getting a tax fee bill that details the following:

    Defense Budget (and wouldn’t it be fun to break THAT down into its component parts)
    National Parks
    Bridge repair
    FDA inspections
    Your Local library
    Foreign aid
    etc, etc, etc

    A gigantic itemized list of where your tax dollars go.

    I think it’s a GREAT idea. Let everyone see where all that money goes, and in what proportion.

    And as for the $15 per $100k of valuation on a house for snow removal – when was the last time you paid to have your driveway plowed, and how much did THAT cost you? $15 or $30 or $45 might seem like a real bargain for a whole season of snow removal for all your streets in Rah-cha-cha.

  21. 21
    ET says:

    I don’t know that I mind the line-iteming and the changing of language.

    I think that there is a tendency of many people (particularly republicans) that tax money goes into to this big pot to in a way, specifically be “wasted.” They don’t think in terms of $XX of my annual taxes goes to snow/ice removal, or $YY goes to police/fire, etc. And because it is this big pot that people don’t have a sense of specifics, tax cuts seem good because all of that money “going to waste.” Sure they cut taxes, but what that meant was that some things that needed to be done and that benefited everyone got cut completely or were underfunded to point of near death. So they put a separate line for something that benefits everyone and they don’t call it a tax but a fee. Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing if it means the money is there for things that need to be done.

  22. 22
    Felonius Monk says:

    This is obviously an attempt to thwart the NYS Property Tax Cap. It will be interesting to see how the courts will interpret the “chargeback” concept. Bet you it won’t fly. A tax is a tax is a tax!

  23. 23
    gmknobl says:

    It is a fact of America for several decades since state and federal income has dropped because of conservatives actions, that state and federal spending has dropped. That results in money being needed for state and federal services. In other words, either you local government makes up the money in some way, you pay for that somewhere else by getting a company to do something that would have been taken care otherwise by those federal and state dollars, or what would have been done with those dollars simply doesn’t get done at all.

    We now have a combination of all three of these situations. Local governments are raising that money by taxes, by surcharges, or by fees. But they don’t make up all the money they are missing. We also pay private companies or individuals to do some of the things those dollars would have paid for. I notice that many richy-rich closed communities have great roads that stay in good condition because they regularly pay others to keep it in good condition. Not so, the local streets of my town which get fixed less regularly than they used to. And lastly, we have many things that don’t get done at all. Schools don’t get the money they need, have fewer teachers and fewer resources. Supplies are made to last longer than they should. Bridges don’t get repaired. Transportation infrastructure is in poor condition over much of the U.S. Communication infrastructure, no longer under real federal control since Nixon, is lagging behind most of the industrialized world.

    In short, because state and federal governments don’t perform their function of tax collection and support of the country as they used to, we must make up the difference out of pocket, which is more costly and less efficient than them doing it. If something can’t be paid for, we loose out. And that’s bad for everyone and the country as a whole.

    Despite what Reagan and conservative would say, government, properly funded and in control of liberal, career oriented professionals, IS the solution. This doesn’t mean Soviet style communism and especially doesn’t mean microbe sized “small” government with limited powers. It does mean the rich paying their way, which they don’t and big corporations paying steep taxes for the privilege of operating in our country, as they used to. It also means a slew of other things. But I’m stopping here and limiting it to just money.

  24. 24
    PurpleGirl says:

    @Felonius Monk: This is obviously an attempt to thwart the NYS Property Tax Cap.

    This is a very good point. At first, I’d forgotten that we a cap on real estate taxes and since that tax pays for so much in NYS, local governments need a work-a-round.

  25. 25
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    And the bridges still collapsed.

    Way to go, T-Paw!

  26. 26
    MattR says:

    @Feudalism Now!: I think the better definition is to say if everybody pays it, it is a tax. If it is something charged only to those who directly use it, it is a fee.

  27. 27
    Murc says:

    I’d like to note that, given the weather in Rochester over the past few years, and the projected weather for THIS winter, this fee may generate a profit for the county. Used to be, we’d be buried every winter. Snow would show up in November sometime, become permanent in December, and not leave until sometime in March.

    Not so much lately. Winters have become rainy, and while it does still snow, it usually vanishes relatively quickly. The roads need to be salted very infrequently and even less frequently plowed.

    It costs money to have snow removal systems standing by even if you don’t use them much, of course, but not using them costs much less than using them.

  28. 28
    DavidTC says:

    A chargeback is when someone is charged for something, but that is reversed and they end up with the money going back to them.

    Generally, it’s used to refer to purchaser _forcibly_ demanding their money back, but I supposed it could in theory apply to voluntary refunds also. (Although we already have the perfectly good ‘refund’ for that.)

    A ‘chargeback’ of the government would be something like if a taxpayer who had moved out of a location could demand some of his tax money back.

    What it _does not_ refer to is more money going in the same direction. As presumably the government does not pay _anti_-property taxes to homeowners, it cannot ‘chargeback’ money from them.

    I suspect they’re using ‘chargeback’ because of that property tax cap others mentioned, and because trying to add ‘fees’ has either been shot down already by the courts or they think it will be soon. (I would argue that, strictly speaking, ‘fees’ is also the wrong term. Something that is a yearly percentage of owned assets is pretty clearly a ‘tax’. Fees are for _services rendered_ and paid at that time, and are generally a static amount, with perhaps waivers for the poor.)

  29. 29
    Peregrinus says:


    Agreed with this, which is why the move surprises me. I live right on the border between Rochester and Brighton, so I guess my streets will be plowed regardless.

    A couple years ago, when I was still an undergraduate, the University of Rochester refused to close for what was projected to be a huge storm. Instead it was suggested we all bring shovels!

  30. 30
    gaderson says:

    from 3F20 ‘Much Apu About Nothing’
    Homer: Let the bears pay the bear tax. I pay the Homer tax.
    Lisa: That’s home-_owner_ tax.
    Homer: Well, anyway, I’m still outraged.

  31. 31
    Central Planning says:

    @Felonius Monk: I don’t think the snowplow fee, if included in the property tax, would make Monroe County go afoul of the tax cap law. Doesn’t the increase have to be < 2%? The plow tax must be less than 2% of the tax bill.

    The part that bothers me about it is while they don't call it a tax, it comes in the tax bill. Furthermore, we were paying it previously, it was just rolled into the the tax amount. Why haven't taxes gone _down_? (rhetorical, I know).

    Finally, my town is voting in a couple weeks about whether we want to put in turf fields and stadium lights. Sheesh, like our taxes aren't high enough already.

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