J.D. Van Brink is a Cobb County resident, businessman and chairman of the Georgia Tea Party, Inc. In this essay, he explains the Tea Party’s opposition to the Cobb Education SPLOST IV referendum.
On Tuesday, Cobb taxpayers will decide whether to renew a 1 percent special sales tax.
The special purpose local option sales tax was created in 1996 as a way to fund capital projects. Of the 562 education tax referendums held statewide since 1996, 94 percent have been approved by voters, according to the AJC.
While Cobb’s first proposal for an education sales tax failed, the three campaigns since have been successful. Cobb voters passed their last SPLOST in 2008 with 60 percent approval.
According to the AJC:
The Cobb and city of Marietta districts would use the projected $773 million collected from the special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST, for hundreds of projects including repairing or replacing dilapidated buildings and athletic facilities and constructing a $29 million college and career academy.
Supporters say the sales tax is desperately needed in times of deep budget cuts for public education. Generating money for capital projects through a sales tax rather than bonds, administrators say, spreads the financial burden among homeowners, the business community and visitors to the county. “This is the right answer for a strong school system, housing values and future economic development,” said John Loud, a parent in the district who has advocated for the SPLOST renewal.
But there is opposition to the extension of the sales tax, as Van Brink’s essay indicates:
By J.D. Van Brink
Georgia Tea Party’s decision to oppose the Ed-SPLOST in Cobb did not come lightly.
The GTPI Board considered the questionable practice of holding a special election in March instead of at a normal election time. We looked at the process that was used in determining the project list and then closely scrutinized the Ed-SPLOST information Notebook. We found little in the Notebook that was directly related to education and much that focused on enticing specific groups to vote in favor of this tax.
Our research generated numerous questions and concerns, and we went directly to school district officials for the answers. Following several meetings with school board members, school district officials and staff, our primary questions remained unanswered . . . our concerns unsatisfied.
Exasperated by the lack of detail and planning endemic in this SPLOST and driven by a desire to make sure that tax money for education truly fulfills that objective, the Georgia Tea Party had no alternative but to oppose what ultimately is a wasteful extension of an ostensibly “temporary” tax.
While Georgia Tea Party believes that the Cobb County school system is one of the best in the state, GTPI acknowledges that specific educational needs do exist. Therefore, GTPI makes the following recommendations for action when the Ed-SPLOST is defeated.
First, we urge school officials to go back to the drawing board and identify real needs and prioritize them as to those that require immediate attention and those that can wait for one two or three years. Specific health, safety and maintenance issues should be the primary focus and the exact schools requiring attention should be identified.
Second, a detailed justification for each need should be developed. It should include a complete explanation of the origin of the project, what it is, the objectives of the project, the benefit to the education process, and how success will be measured upon completion.
Reasonable cost estimates should be obtained from contractors and suppliers and precise timelines developed. Comparisons should be made with similar, previously-completed projects, and if costs or deadlines appear to be padded or unrealistically low, a second or third opinion should be obtained.
Third, a pared-down Notebook should be developed, which includes the cost and justification for each project. Austerity should be the prerequisite. New construction should be adequate and not extravagant. If additional infrastructure is required, the source of funding for ongoing maintenance, staff, utilities, transportation and support materials related to the infrastructure should be determined and revealed.
Fourth, all funding options ought to be explored. In today’s low-interest debt environment, many options, such as bonds that may not have been desirable a few years ago, may be suitable now.
Fifth, regardless of the source of funding (taxes or debt), the new Notebook would need to be presented to the public and a referendum held at a time corresponding with a regular general election, the next being November 4, 2014. If emergency funding is required for imminent needs, short term funding could be obtained with the debt pay-off an integral part of the 2014 Notebook.
GTPI believes a long-term vision for education in Cobb County is essential, but since educational requirements are becoming increasingly fluid, any Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax should focus on near-term projects that are truly “special”, and of which all long-term consequences have been determined. GTPI is offering a reasonable approach.
Its simplicity yields transparency. Its short-term character yields efficiency and accountability. It discourages waste by first fixing the things that need to be fixed, and allowing time for a more deliberate approach to the larger projects that do not require immediate action.
GTPI’s objective is to help improve education in our county, state and nation by making sure that every tax dollar spent yields a full dollar in benefit for our children.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog