Cape County sales tax proposal on ballot June 2

On Tuesday, Cape Girardeau County voters will have a chance to decide whether to enact a half-cent sales tax to fund a variety of county government functions, focusing primarily on law enforcement activities and infrastructure.

Sheriff Ruth Ann Dickerson has explained the proposal would allow the county to hire patrol deputies, jailers, transport personnel and school resource officers, while also supporting jail facilities, boosting pay for staff and improving communications infrastructure, among other projects.

Worthy causes, all.

The State of Missouri has reduced its funding for county jail operations, causing budget crunches across the state. Having a dedicated funding source for Cape Girardeau County would alleviate ongoing shortfalls.

The proposal going before voters would cover those costs and provide funding for capital outlays within the county as well, including road projects.

There is no doubt increased funding would remove stress on county government.

However, one aspect of the proposal gives us serious pause: There is no sunset provision.

Other sales-tax proposals in the region -- the City of Cape Girardeau's transportation trust fund (TTF) tax, for example -- have been predicated on a time-limited basis, with voters having the opportunity to continue them at the end of each term. This process builds accountability. The fact voters have approved the city's TTF sales tax provision five times speaks to the credibility of the planning, the success of the execution and voter support for evaluating government programs over time.

The county's proposal does not have such a clause. If approved, the tax would remain indefinitely. That makes sense for the personnel portion of the tax proceeds, as those costs would continue, but the half-cent provides other funding for capital projects whose costs would go away once completed. County leadership argues new needs could be met by the funds at that point, including inevitable infrastructure maintenance and repair. Still, voters would no longer be directly part of the process.

Our position on the proposal is akin to the perspective the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce has taken: Voters should study the county tax proposal and decide for themselves whether to support the increase for the purposes it would fund and for perpetuity.