Monday, November 14, 2011

School SPLOST Is New Tax

Read the column here (30 October 29011).

O.C.G.A. really doesn’t make a distinction between county SPLOSTs and school district SPLOSTs insofar as terminology is concerned, and whatever terminology is used by others is frequently used inconsistently. For the sake of clarity, I have used the term “ESPLOST-4”. That is the term used by Charlie Maddox in his earlier opinion piece, short for Education SPLOST 4, which appears to be the preferred term of the CCSD.

When I cast my “early” vote down at the Board of Elections office on Tuesday, 18 October, no sample ballot had been posted on the Board’s web site. I do not know when the sample ballot was posted, but it can now be found here:

Here is the resolution approved by the Board of Education back during its called meeting of 27 June, 2011 on which the above ballot resolution is based. I got it from the Clarke County School District’s PR office, as the attachment was not included in either the online agenda or minutes archived on the CCSD web site for the meeting (it was the first item under New Business). Note that it is just as vague and unspecific as the ballot resolution (county governments and school districts having learned the utility of vagueness insofar as their SPLOST project descriptions are concerned – can you say “Tennis Center?”):

For the legalese that covers these matters, see O.C.G.A. Title 48, Chapter 8, Article 3, Part 1 (County Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) and Part 2 (Sales Tax for Educational Purposes):

Clarke County School District Education SPLOST FAQs (I also have a separate 2-page PDF specifically on Education SPLOST-4 that was on the CCSD web site, but I cannot find that link now):

A trio of further thoughts:

Years ago, I asked some questions as the result of the approval of ESPLOST-3 and its associated bond issue. The CCSD’s portion of the local property tax millage rate has been at the 20 mills limit for years; to exceed that limit would normally require the voters’ approval to do so via a referendum. So how could that limit be administratively traversed so as to make up a SPLOST revenue shortfall without a referendum? After a long and circuitous journey through a variety of local and state government bureaucracies, the Attorney General’s office provided me with the relevant Georgia Supreme Court case law, Seaboard Air-Line Railway Company v. Wright, comptroller-general, et al., from way back in 1927, that exempted bond debt service from any constitutional limit. I do not agree with the reasoning embodied in that decision, as it would seem to render the rationale for the 20 mills limit moot, but the case law is what it is.

In order to raise ESPLOST-4's hoped-for $24 million per year in sales tax revenue rather than the expected $21 million per year, the purchase of an additional $300 million per year of taxable goods and services would have to occur in Athens-Clarke County. That works out to a $1.5 billion increase in taxable purchases over the five-year duration of ESPLOST-4. Any such increase is highly unlikely – and how – so why word the referendum that way? Because the CCSD is greedy and wants to hedge its bets just in case, that is why. And if $105 million is expected to pay for the projects included in ESPLOST-4, for what would the additional $15 be used?

Ostensibly, the idea is that by issuing bonds, thereby getting a significant portion of the levy’s anticipated revenue immediately, any construction costs increases that occur over ESPLOST-4's five-year duration can be avoided (this practice is typically referred to as “forward funding”). “Ostensibly,” I say, because when I quizzed the powers that be over how much money the CCSD was going to save by employing this strategy with the bonds issued as a part of ESPLOST-3, none of them could even hazard a guess as to how much would be saved, or even how such a figure may be calculated. I, like they, was just supposed to accept the reasoning as a matter of unverifiable faith. Besides which, I would argue the assumption that construction costs must invariably rise has been disproven in recent years.

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