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Voters should authorize raising school tax by 2 mills

Claude Paquin's picture

Much has been made in recent times about the public debt we might all leave to our children and grandchildren and how we might all tighten our belts by cutting government spending.

For reasons I’ll explain shortly, I plainly disagree with the reasoning of those who rail against our federal government for its valiant attempts to right our financial ship of state.

One issue particularly bothers me. Is leaving less debt for our children and grandchildren the reason for laying off many of their teachers and otherwise starving our public education system of the funds needed to educate these very children we claim to love? Isn’t that like telling your child, “I won’t pay to send you to college because I want to leave you a bigger inheritance”?

For our Fayette school board, for which I can hardly hide my contempt, I have one suggestion. It might be dismissed, as other suggestions have been in the past, and it might subject me to personal attacks by its minions, one of their favorite responses. But here it is, and I think it is a good one.

School board types like to say that the current Constitution of the state of Georgia (of 1983) prevents the school system from imposing more than 20 mills in property tax for maintenance and operations.

Now go read that Constitution, and take a look at Article 8, which is about education. Now go look at Section 6, which is about local taxation for education. Go beyond Paragraph 1, which sets the 20-mill limit, and read Paragraph 2.

That paragraph states, “The mill limitation in effect on June 30, 1983, for any school system may be increased ... by action of the respective boards of education, but only after such action has been approved by [the voters].”

The mill limitation on June 30, 1983 was provided by the 1976 Constitution and there was no change when the current 1983 Constitution came into effect on July 1, 1983.

Only intense pettifogging would cloud the point that, with the Fayette voters’ consent, our school board could raise the current 20-mill property tax limit to 22 mills. If our school board could not do that, the constitution provision I just quoted would be meaningless.

Because of the education SPLOST approved by Fayette voters in November 2008, the school board is able to reduce the school bond millage by about 2 mills. Reducing the bond millage by 2 mills while increasing the regular millage by 2 mills would leave the net tax rate unchanged. There’d be no school tax increase.

So why not do it, and in the process help stop the weakening of our local public education system? Cutting teachers, courses and classes is not the way to help our young people, just like prepaying your mortgage while starving your family is not the way to help your children.

Would the voters of Fayette approve raising the school millage limit from 20 to 22? The way to find out is to put the issue to a vote. So far, the people of Fayette County have bent over backwards to help our school children, in spite of a board that has done little to earn their confidence.

We are talking about a potential 10 percent increase in local revenues for school operations, at a time when the revenue is badly needed if we are to maintain the quality of education we want our children to have.

Now why do I disagree about all the ruckus concerning increasing the public debt and leaving a huge amount for our children to repay?

A country is not like a family. A family grows, its members age and its children eventually leave home, and the patriarchs die. There is an ending, so debts need to be settled.

A country lives on. There is no foreseeable ending. Moreover, a country has assets which have value. The whole interstate highway system, bridges, federal buildings, military planes, ships and vehicles, have immense value. So have our natural resources and our intellectual property.

If you leave your children a $300,000 house with a $50,000 mortgage on it, have you not left them a $250,000 asset? Why should our children complain and look solely at the mortgage balance, as if we had done them an incalculable wrong?

What is wrong, in my opinion, is to shortchange our children in their education. Many parents have the foresight and courage to spend money to send their children to college. Of course, the money spent for college might be that much less for them to inherit. But isn’t the education worth more?

To assume that our children will eventually be grateful to us if we shortchange them in their education is about the dumbest proposition I can think of. We should spend wisely on their education, but we should consider it an investment in their future.

Note that I am not advocating that we bankrupt the country. What I am advocating is that we resist the siren song of demagogues who like to stir up people by making claims that fail to look at all aspects of the situation. So long as our net worth as a country (assets less liabilities) is positive, our children will have every reason to be satisfied.

Now, let’s educate them properly so they don’t fall for the demagogues’ arguments.

[Fayette county resident Claude Y. Paquin is a retired lawyer and actuary who received undergraduate degrees in arts and in education before becoming a fellow of the Society of Actuaries and earning an Emory law degree with distinction with a concentration on tax law.]

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