In case you hadn’t noticed from the din on the cable news channels, this is a presidential election year. Which means that in addition to playing our special swing county role in picking the next president, Hamilton County residents will also have a several chances in November to raise their property, sales and (possibly) payroll taxes.

Local politicians love to find heart-tugging causes to get taxpayers to dig deeper. 

Your Hamilton County tax bill shows separate real estate levies for your city (or township) and county general funds, which pay for things like roads, cops, fire protection and politicians’ salaries. But there are also levies for many more causes: the library, family services/treatment, indigent hospital care, mental health and many more. 

County commissioners and city councils are clever enough not to ask the public to vote on their own or their staff’s salaries. No, they look for the causes that make our hearts bleed. After all, who could say no to family, children or senior services? (Aren’t children and seniors in families, too?) Or those cute little monkeys at the zoo?

Presidential election years always draw the most special levy action because Democratic voters—particularly younger and African American voters—tend to turn out with more gusto when the White House is at stake. And the conventional wisdom is that Democrats “never saw a tax they didn’t like.” With that possible bonanza of tax-friendly voters headed to the polls in November, the strategists looking for some extra public funds to spend reportedly are revving their tax levy engines for these causes:

- SORTA: currently operating a regional transit system with only passenger fares and a City of Cincinnati payroll tax, SORTA wants to expand its funding base with a county sales tax. But will suburban residents wedded to their cars support public transit that few of them use?

- Child and/or Family Services: will this be just a renewal, or a consolidation of the two levies with an increase in millage?

- County Parks: that park district on my tax bill is not my city park system, but a county park system, located in the suburbs. County parks typically charge for admission. Will city voters who just rejected a park tax levy keep paying for county parks most don’t use? 

- School Districts: In Cincinnati and other suburban districts, school boards need to ask voters to renew and raise property taxes just to tread water. 

- Preschool Promise: Research shows that kids receiving high-quality preschool perform better in K-12 and in life. The Preschool Promise would guarantee preschool to all. But will this be a countywide tax levy, or a city charter amendment calling for a payroll tax increase? And why not just fund this through our public schools that already provide preschool?

Despite all these good causes, this 2016 tax levy traffic jam could backfire. 

Voters this year may not be as generous with their cash as they were four or eight years ago. First, the 2016 turnout model could be quite different than it was when a young, exciting, African American candidate led the Democratic ticket to victory in 2008 and 2012. The Democrats’ Early Bird Special tandem of Hillary Clinton (or Bernie Sanders) and Ted Strickland will not attract nearly as many voters as Barack Obama did.

And all voters—Democrats and Republicans—may be getting sticker shock as the collection of special levies keep accumulating on our tax bills. Our property values have gone down since the Great Recession started in 2008, but our actual tax bills have gone up. Voters surprised Mayor Cranley when his 2015 park tax got clobbered last November. The sponsors of all these levies may be in for a surprise in 2016.