In days, early voting will begin Feb. 27 on the next sales tax for local schools, and a similar vote will be scheduled in the coming 12 months for a sales tax for local governments. In both cases, the current sales tax is expiring, so passage of a new tax won’t add to the sting at the cash register, just swap the new one for an old one.
In deciding how to cast their ballots for each tax, voters will have to ask themselves two questions: are the proposed uses for the tax proceeds worthwhile, and is a sales tax the best way to raise the money.
For the school tax, much of the money is planned to go toward renovations and maintenance on school buildings, the newest school in the system being more than 20 years old. Smaller projects include things like security upgrades.
If those sound worthwhile to you, and building upkeep is less expensive than replacement later, then the question is how to pay for it. Since the system’s largest expense is the salary and benefits for classroom teachers, coming up with the money from current revenues effectively means shrinking resources that directly impact students the most.
Expecting to find $48 million in waste is unlikely in a debt-free district that consistently receives spotless financial audits and is recognized around the state as one of the best-run.
The system could get the money by issuing bonds, but that would leave it with less borrowing capacity should it have to add classrooms to cope with a population spurt, a law change or another pressing need. And the debt service would be an added expense.
That leaves taxes, and given a choice between an increase in property taxes and a sales tax, voters should opt for the sales tax.
Replacing a sales tax that is expiring means no change in the existing tax picture, but opting to use property taxes would mean a boost in the millage rate. The sales tax would drop at the same time, but that could be disruptive if an increased millage rate discourages a company from putting a factory or warehouse here or puts a greater squeeze on low-income homeowners.
On the other hand, we’re already accustomed to the sales tax level.
Everyone pays a sales tax when buying everyday items. That includes visitors, folks from neighboring counties who shop here, renters, undocumented aliens and those in the underground economy.
Consider that the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 28 percent of the people working in Coweta County live in other counties and that those 10,000 workers are likely to buy meals here, at least, and probably much more, paying sales taxes to help maintain our schools.
There are ways around income taxes and property taxes, but the only way around a sales tax is not to buy anything. That’s part of its charm. It’s optional for the taxpayer in the sense that discretionary purchases can be avoided.
When all things are considered, a sales tax is the best way to pay for the renovation and security projects the school board is proposing.