Editorial: Staton’s attempt to govern from Atlanta fatally flawed

March 6, 2013 

“Shall the Act which consolidates the taxing authority in Macon-Bibb County by providing that the governing authority of Macon-Bibb County shall approve and levy school system taxes be approved?”

-- Senate Bill 247

That will be the question Bibb County voters will have to answer if state Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, gets his way. He finally added his bill to strip the Bibb County school system of taxing authority to the Senate hopper on Monday. The system would have to go begging, unlike the other 179 school systems in the state, to the new consolidated government, to approve its budget and levy the taxes.

There are several issues that will get lost in this taxing debate. Presently, the Bibb County schools levy 17.945 mills in taxes. It has held the same rate for four years, even in the midst of lower property values that cost the system $1.6 million.

Add to that loss, the $2.5 percent collection fee from the tax commissioner’s office and deduct another 2 percent for the people who don’t pay their taxes and the system received less than $75 million of its $175.9 million operating budget. While some are shaking in their boots expecting a huge school tax increase, they forget the system has a tax cap, something it didn’t have prior to the 2004 vote that gave it fiscal independence.

No need to bother those who think the change is needed with definitions for “equalization” or “austerity reductions” that amounted to $16.8 million in the 2012 budget or the “local 5 mill share” that sucks more money away the district. It sounds like Greek and it will be equally foreign to the new commissioners.

And there is a another little caveat, Sen. Staton’s bill calls for a vote to decide the system’s taxing authority on June 18, 2013, just about a month before Staton and Rep. Allen Peake have proposed the first nonpartisan elections for the new consolidated government. Talk about a waste. According to the Board of Elections, to hold the election in June, will cost Bibb taxpayers an additional $50,000 to $60,000. Is that fiscally responsible or is it another attempt to game the results?

Though the Bibb County Commission voted 4-1 to not support Staton’s proposal, in typical legislative fashion, where all power comes from the state and not from local people who have to deal with the edicts, Staton said of the commission’s vote, “They have nothing to do with it. ... Frankly I’m not concerned about the opinions of people who may or may not be involved.”

Staton is not alone under the Gold Dome with that attitude. It’s easy to dictate from on high when you have no skin in the game.

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