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Taking taxes to school
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NOBODY ENJOYS paying property taxes, especially those that seem to go up year after year. I know I don’t.

While it faces a host of obstacles — not least among them the energetic opposition of every school board in the state, including ours — there’s no doubt that Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson’s plan to do away with school property taxes (replacing them with an increased sales tax) has been well-received by a lot of rank-and-file citizens throughout the state.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard say things like, “I don’t have kids, why should I pay taxes for the public schools? Let the parents pay the extra money.”

Of course, by saying that, such people only prove that they need a little more schooling themselves.

Education isn’t just for parents and their children. It’s for the economy. It’s for quality of life. It’s for society.

It’s for civilization, people.

Educated citizens make the world around you and the people and institutions in it work better. Educated citizens make the other services you pay for flow your way more efficiently. Educated citizens make the crime rate around you go down.

In short, educated citizens make your quality of life better, whether or not you yourself have children in the public schools.

For those who still think Richardson’s plan is a good idea, try answering the following questions:

How many people and businesses will move to Georgia if it becomes the only state in the region that won’t fully fund its schools? I’m not just talking about the “Creative Coast” types, but the Gulfstream engineers, the shipping executives, the people the Savannah River Landing would like to bring in at about a million a pop.

Ah, but those people all send their kids to private school anyway, you say. First off, that’s not true at all.

Secondly, do you really want a community with an even greater divide between the private schools and public schools than we already have now? All I can say to that is, I hope you really enjoy that gated community you live in.

And how about control issues? Do you trust Atlanta to properly allocate that sales tax money they collect? You know, the same Atlanta that made sure the world’s largest aquarium is located there rather than, oh say, here on the coast?

How many tourists will come to Savannah if a dramatically increased sales tax makes every single thing they buy more expensive than in South Carolina or Florida?

The Charleston metro area already pulls in roughly five times the tourist revenue Savannah does. How much higher will that number go once word gets out that all goods and services in Savannah will cost maybe ten, fifteen percent more?

As for those of us with kids already in the system, how many parents will want to stick around and see how much worse the schools can get if their major source of funding is removed?

And finally, for us homeowners who are tired of paying property taxes, i.e., all of us, here’s a question:

You’re tired of property taxes, sure, aren’t we all. But are you also tired of writing off those taxes? Because Richardson’s plan would eliminate that fat deduction.

So how do you like it now?

Fortunately, local school boards, including Savannah/Chatham’s, are speaking out on the issue. As my story in this issue indicates, your local board is trying a proactive approach. Instead of just whining, they’re proposing a different kind of tax reform: extending the Stephens-Day homestead exemption, which has been a big success here, statewide. While not perfect, I think that’s a worthwhile suggestion.

Bottom line: To my mind, Richardson’s plan approaches sheer insanity.

Georgia is somewhat unique. We are the ninth most populous state in the union, with one of the healthiest economies — but we also have one of the nation’s worst education records.

Gee, what could possibly ruin that healthy economy? Maybe some guy who wants badly to be the next governor restructuring the tax system specifically to shortchange the public schools? Hey, what could possibly go wrong with that?

Let’s face it: Georgia’s economy is healthy, but hard times are ahead. No one knows for sure how long they’ll last, but everyone’s pretty sure they’re on the way.

Now is not the time to be fooling around with something as essential as funding for schools, especially by depending on a consumption tax, of all things.

If you want tax reform, fine — there are a lot of better, smaller ways to do that incrementally. They may not get a certain person elected governor, but that’s just too bad.

Jim is editor in chief of Connect Savannah.

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