Ad-hoc fix just kicks reform can down the road

info@islandpacket.comFebruary 23, 2013 

State Rep. Bill Herbkersman is to be commended for trying to reduce a major inequity in how we pay for school operations.

But his proposal to create a local option sales tax to help pay for school operations and provide property tax relief to second-home and commercial property owners offers a Band-Aid rather than the major surgery required.

And while a lot of the sales tax revenue would come from visitors to the area, that wouldn't change what an individual resident has to pay in sales tax when he or she makes a purchase. It is a regressive tax, hitting those who can least afford it the hardest.

What we need is a comprehensive overhaul of how we pay for school operations that addresses the problems created by property tax reform and other state funding sources: They include:

  • A higher property tax burden for second-home and commercial property owners to pay for schools that resident homeowners benefit from most.

  • A state funding source, the Education Finance Act, whose formula is based on a school district's ability to raise money through property taxes that are no longer collected -- that is, taxes on owner-occupied homes. There is a big disconnect between this law passed in the 1970s and the property tax reform law, Act 388, passed in 2006.

  • Reimbursement from the 1 percent sales tax for school operations predicated on an owner-occupied residential tax base that is no longer valid. The amount that comes to a district is based on the taxes collected on owner-occupied homes at the time the property tax reform law went into effect. Since then, many owners who were assessed at the non-resident 6 percent rate have claimed resident status. That's particularly true in Beaufort County.

  • That's just a start. If lawmakers relieve some of the political pressure they face by passing a partial solution to education funding problems, then we are less likely to ever see a substantive solution.

    State Sen. Tom Davis says he's working toward a single funding stream for education that would be a per-pupil allocation that takes into account such issues as poverty, disabilities and other special needs.

    He sees a convergence of interests on this issue. Other areas of the state that have been hurt by the Education Finance Act formula and the shift of properties from 6 percent to 4 percent assessment rates are feeling Beaufort County's pain now; their lawmakers are joining the effort to achieve comprehensive reform.

    Ad hoc fixes, Davis says, just kick the can down the road.

    He's right. That's how we get into these kinds of legislative messes.

    Lawmakers should keep their eye on the long-term goal.

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