Why Cape, Jackson and Scott City need your support on use tax

On Tuesday, voters in Cape Girardeau, Jackson and Scott City will be asked to vote on an important issue that will impact local municipal services in years to come.

The use tax, sometimes referred to as an internet sales tax, is on the ballot. In short, it allows the collection of an equivalent sales tax on items purchased from out-of-state and online retailers. With the shift in consumer spending to online shopping, habits exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, this issue is more critical now than ever.

In recent weeks supporters of the use tax, namely city and business leaders, have made the case as to why the tax is needed and what it actually means. Several letters to the editor and guest columns have appeared on this page regarding the issue, but a few key points bear repeating:

* If you purchase an item at a local retailer, you will not be charged a use tax. Only the sales tax will prevail.

* You will never be charged both a sales tax and a use tax.

* If you purchase an item from an out-of-state or online retailer, the use tax will be charged at the same rate as the local sales tax had the purchase been made at a local retailer.

There are a couple key reasons why voters should support the use tax:

1. The impact on local retail. Earlier campaigns for the use tax talked about this being an issue of fairness. We believe this is true, but it goes further than surface level. Cape Girardeau city manager Kenneth Haskin has said the city not having a use tax is preventing businesses from establishing a physical location.

Others such as Jackson Tire founder Charlie Glueck have said potential customers window shop locally and then go online to make the purchase to avoid the sales tax. "Because people don't have to pay [internet] sales tax on a large purchase, say $800 to $1,000 on a set of tires, sometimes that's the difference between us getting the deal and a customer buying online," he said. "You can buy anything online and in a small town, it's tough. Everybody's working hard to try to make a living."

2. Consumers have shifted their spending habits with more and more people shopping online. We, of course, always encourage people to shop locally. "Support your local retailers who do so much to support our communities" is a message we regularly share. Still, the reality is online shopping is here to stay. And until local municipalities sign off on the use tax, this is revenue that won't be collected to support basic services.

In Cape Girardeau, city leaders are making the case that revenue generated by the use tax will help make city staff salaries, particularly those of police and fire personnel, more competitive. Cape Girardeau is struggling to fill these positions. One reason is the demanding nature of the jobs and risk of personal safety. But compensation is also playing a role. City leaders have also said some basic services may have to be curtailed if a use tax is not supported.

Meanwhile in Jackson, leaders are connecting the use tax to parks and youth sports. "This tax will be an economic development tool for Jackson," Brian Gerau, executive director of the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce, said at a recent meeting. "If we up our amenities, it'll bring more people here to use our facilities and fields, and when that happens, everybody wins."

In Scott City, leaders say use tax funds would likely support retention of municipal employees along with street repairs.

The use tax has garnered support not only from government leadership but also the Cape, Jackson and Scott City chambers of commerce. And individual retailers have also spoken in support of the issue.

It's time to pass the use tax for the betterment of our communities.