On March 21, 2017 Cobb voters will be asked once again to approve another Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or E-SPLOST, which would re-impose a one percent sales tax on all consumer goods purchased in Cobb County starting on January 1, 2019 and ending five years later. Originally the amount this E-SPLOST was supposed to raise was $818.6 million, a figure arrived at after consultants and school district staff spent months carefully considering the needs and future growth of the district. Yet a mere two weeks before the School Board voted on October 27, 2016 to put this E-SPLOST on the ballot, the Board, at the behest of School Board member David Banks, voted to throw in an additional $40 million, raising the ante to $859.5 million.
This additional $40 million has not been vetted, and was imposed out of the fear that the district may raise the $818 million before the five years are up for this new E-SPLOST. In defending this new increase, James Wilson, one of the education consultants that drew up the original list of projects, claimed that the additional money would “…give us an opportunity down the road if we needed something and more money came in.” That’s not a good reason.
On the contrary, the first principle in establishing a budget, in both the public and private sector, is to first establish the spending needs and then propose a budget sufficient to pay for them. You don’t, or at least should not, figure out how much money you can raise and then just fill in the blanks. The lack of specificity and failure to fully integrate the additional funds into the E-SPLOST already proposed by staff should concern all Cobb County taxpayers. The justification by the district’s above-referenced consultant that the additional $40 million would be used “if we needed something and more money came in” is not an acceptable criteria for raising our taxes. We deserve better than that.
And to spring this on the taxpayer with only 15 days advance notice reminds me of the way the Braves deal was imposed on taxpayers within a similar timeframe. The voters, in no uncertain terms, rendered their judgment that this kind of action is unacceptable when they elected a new chairman of the Board of Commissioners by a nearly two to one margin.
What the voters were saying is that we demand more accountability and transparency when it comes to spending our hard earned tax dollars, and that we take strong exception when political elites and insiders paternalistically take the taxpayer for granted because they know what’s best for us.
Without specifying exactly how and why the E-SPLOST should be increased by $40 million, this almost guarantees that the money will be used as slush fund to enrich the politically well-connected. Haven’t we seen enough of this in Cobb County? Isn’t it time we demand the same degree of accountability for the district that we have now demanded from our County Government?
If you agree, than vote NO on this E-SPLOST and insist that the School Board submit another E-SPLOST next year without the $40 million slush fund. Since this E-SPLOST will not go into effect until the beginning of 2019, there is still plenty of time to make that happen. Voting NO does not mean doing away with the E-SPLOST altogether. A NO vote simply forces the Board to do what they should have done in the first place, which is to accept the recommendation of staff and consultants, without the $40 million add on.
Lance Lamberton is the Chairman of the Cobb Taxpayers Association, (CTA) which was established in 2005 to serve as a watchdog to protect the interests of Cobb taxpayers.
The article above was published in the current issue of The East Cobber magazine. If you like the message, please pass along via social media. And if you become aware of any infractions by the Government School Establishment of using taxpayer resources to promote a YES vote on this tax, please let CTA know about it so we can file a grievance with the State Ethics Commission. Examples of this include handing out pro YES lawn signs on school property. Or announcements over school PA systems urging children to urge their parents to vote YES. Or vote YES encouragements on announcement bill boards on school property. Or School Board members overtly encouraging YES votes while attending or sponsoring Town Hall Meetings. The key is to document these infractions with audio, video, and pictures. CTA will keep your information confidential. We know how vindictive the local PTAs and their henchmen (and women) on the School Board can be.