Staton and Peake’s school tax proposal a very bad idea

February 22, 2013 

Wednesday, state Sen. Cecil Staton and state Rep. Allen Peake, both Republicans, said they were going to introduce, next week, local legislation that would strip taxing authority from the Bibb County School Board and have it seek budget approval from the new consolidated Bibb County Commission.

Obviously the two lawmakers are having a memory moment. Have they forgotten the annual chaos such an arrangement brought on this community until 2004 when voters, after a failed 2002 attempt, finally gave the board taxing authority? Bibb was the last school system, out of 180 in the state, to receive such authority. Don’t they remember the finger pointing -- the school board blaming the commission and the commission blaming the school board for the system’s woes? For lawmakers who tout accountability as a essential tenet of governance, this proposal does just the opposite.

There are two reasons Staton and Peake’s attempt to roll back the clock is a phenomenally bad idea. From a practical perspective, they haven’t answered the question (along with many others) about how such an arrangement might work. If history is a guide, commissioners would not have enough of a working knowledge of the system or its finances to render any meaningful observations other than political decisions to either raise or lower taxes or maintain the status quo. How did that work out for the students of Bibb County in the 134 years before the system gained fiscal independence?

Also on the practical side of the ledger, how can Peake and Staton propose stripping the system of its fiscal independence without a voter referendum? Both are on record requiring voter input on major changes, the latest being consolidation. During the 2004 session it was suggested that fiscal independence could be accomplished strictly by legislative fiat, but former Sens. Susan Cable and Robert Brown insisted on voter input. What’s changed besides the personalities?

The second reason this a cockamamie idea is that it is ill-timed and unfeasible and won’t fix the problem lawmakers believe needs fixing. In addition, the sponsors want to avoid voter input because their argument doesn’t hold enough water to convince the majority of Bibb County voters to agree to the legislation.

This Legislature’s antipathy toward public education is real, not imagined. These same lawmakers have watched as state funding decreased for public schools by 25 percent from 2002 to 2011. According to the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, “Georgia continues to shortchange its K-12 students,” and the governor’s 2014 budget under-funds K-12 by another $1 billion, following a $1.1 billion shortfall in the 2013 budget. More than $5 billion has been sucked from public education while few mandates have been lifted. How would a commission deal with that?

Let’s be real clear about the impetus for this issue. Some in the community don’t like the direction the school system is taking and the people who are taking it there, and they know they don’t represent the majority of voters. If they can’t change it by the vote, they foist idiotic proposals that would do nothing to impact what they perceive is the problem.

Removing taxing authority would only further divide the community along racial lines at a crucial time for the future of this community. The last thing these lawmakers should do is saddle a brand new government trying to meld two into one with another headache. Since this is local legislation, Reps. Bubber Epps, Robert Dickey and state Sen. Burt Jones, all Republicans, have the power to join Staton and Peake and push the measure through. It would be a disservice to the school system and to the new consolidated government. Epps, Dickey and Jones should join Reps. Nikki Randall, James Beverly and state Sen. David Lucas and strongly urge their colleagues to drop the idea and let the natural course, already set by law, steer the school system or let the proposal face the voters.

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