Thursday, April 24, 2014
“The government's view of the economy: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. If it quits moving, subsidize it.” – Ronald Reagan
No other area of government spending is more touted or more sacrosanct than education spending. I'm not sure if any politician in the history of democracy has ever been elected on a platform of cutting education spending. Whereas Social Security funding is considered the “third rail” of national politics (meaning you better not even hint at cutting it), education spending is its equal in local and state politics.
It is here that the Town of Mount Pleasant finds itself now having to maneuver to make sure it is the proverbial squeaky wheel and is heard by Charleston County School District as well as the state legislature in order to get solutions to capacity needs necessitated by student population growth.
Mayor Linda Page has appointed a special committee headed by Councilman Paul Gawrych, tasked with making sure the town's needs are known and heard. Passage of the extension of the 1 percent sales tax in a proposed referendum this fall appears to be the key.
This, of course, begs lots of questions:
1. Why didn't the 1 percent sales tax passed in 2010, already take care of these needs? Councilman Gawrych told the Post and Courier, “Everybody assumed that it would make the list. We felt like everybody there at 75 Calhoun (CCSD headquarters) understood.”
2. Why must one of the fastest growing municipalities in the state, and in the entire region for that matter, with such a high real estate tax base, be forced to go begging for infrastructure spending like this? Is Charleston County School District using the high-dollar suburbs to subsidize the poorer areas of the county, and if so, is this right or even fair? Stay tuned to a future column featuring a breakdown of CCSD revenues versus expenses.
3. Doesn't this issue of Mount Pleasant having thousands more students than the schools have capacity for demonstrate the lack of coordination between our local authorities? Do the similarities and communiqués between local governments and the county school district end at their taxing proposals?
What Mount Pleasant is facing demonstrates three clear principles:
1. As demonstrated in the Ronald Reagan quote at the top of this column, the best way to get more government spending thrown your way is to fail. How many tax-paying, voting residents are familiar with the per-student expenditures in Charleston County's failing schools versus the top-performing schools?
I lived on James Island at the beginning of the last decade when James Island High School was the first successful public-to-charter school conversion in the state. The reason? It was a top-performing school yet was at the bottom of the per-student funding from the district.
2. The Post WWII suburban residential growth and tax base model is a failure. When the Lowcountry first began experiencing its real estate boom and massive population influx, we heard ad nauseam that sprawling residential growth would “increase the tax base.” Well, what we are seeing now is that unfettered, uncoordinated growth puts more strain on infrastructure needs than it eases through the “increased tax base.”
While Mount Pleasant is trying to address the school capacity problem, another comprehensive and substantive effort to address residential growth and all it entails might be in order, too.
3. Though Mount Pleasant has recently raised your real estate taxes, and has been admirably slow to do so, real estate taxes prove to be the most unfair taxes of all. Why? Because taxes on your home rise based on what other people do with their property. Through no fault of your own, someone down the road can develop a hoity-toity neighborhood resulting in high comparable values, meaning you're in for a surprise when you get your re-assessment.
It took major shock during the real estate boom 10 years ago to get laws passed that limit just how much they can go up in one re-assessment, but the problem remains and is part of this big picture.
Will Haynie has published more than 400 oped columns as a feature columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times and the Hendersonville (N.C.) Times-News when it was owned by the New York Times. His niche is as a humorous conservative. Find him on Twitter at @willhaynie or email him at Haynie.email@example.com.