No Taxation Without Representation

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

When I took my first political-science course in college, the professor helpfully explained that voting is an irrational act; none of our individual votes would ever sway an election.

I’d like to introduce him to Jen Henderson.

A group of business owners in Columbia, Missouri carefully gerrymandered a new community-improvement district so that it would contain no actual voters, reports the Columbia Daily Tribune. But somehow, they missed the 23-year-old student at the University of Missouri. Now, the fate of the CID rests on Henderson’s individual vote.

The business owners have already levied a small property-tax increase on themselves, which will raise $50,000. But instead of taxing their own wealth, they’d planned on raising the other $220,000 they need by imposing an added sales tax on the struggling local residents who patronize their businesses. It would, among other things, pay for the lawyers and consultants who helped set up the BID, and for the salary of its director. Henderson is skeptical. “Taxing their food is kind of sad, especially when [the executive director] is going to be making like $70,000 a year off of this whole deal,” she told the Tribune.

We’ve reported before on Missouri’s extraordinarily regressive local-tax structure, which helped drive the city of Ferguson to rely on fines and fees. It’s a particularly severe example of a national issue.

The editor of the local paper expressed his hope that Henderson “will lose her angst and decide not to queer this election.” Well, no. You can’t “queer an election” by voting. By happy accident, the businesses now have to justify their plans to a real, live voter. That’s exactly how it should have been all along.