The proposal, supported by Banks, was spearheaded by John Crooks and Don Hill, both members of the school board’s Cobb County Facilities and Technology Committee. Crooks, a former school board member, is a minister at Roswell Street Baptist Church while Hill is a former Cobb GOP chairman.
Called a Local Education Sales Tax, or LEST, the tax would support a financially unstable school district, Crooks told the MDJ on Monday.
As president of the Cobb Schools Foundation, Crooks said he had been receiving requests from teachers for funding to increase teacher training days, and that motivated him to help propose this legislation.
“As a Republican, I don’t get all tingly over taxes, but for me, this is a choice for a poor area to improve the quality of education, and that means improving the quality of life,” Crooks said. “And if people choose a sales tax to help improve their quality of life then so be it.”
This tax would be in addition to Cobb County’s current 1-cent Ed-SPLOST tax, which funds capital improvement projects such as building new schools.
A draft of the legislation is still being revised, and at this point, it is unclear whether or not the 1-cent sales tax would be levied on food, gas, prescription drugs or other necessities. Nonetheless, such a tax would raise the overall sales tax in Cobb County to 7 percent, Crooks said.
In its current state, the proposed bill would amend the state Constitution to allow each county in Georgia to have the option to vote on a 10-year county-wide 1-cent tax that would bolster the school district’s general fund.
The general fund supports school expenditures such as teacher salaries, transportation, computer resources, athletics and special school programs like magnet and IB schools.
LEST would add to these funds, and give the school boards in the counties the power to decide how to spend the revenue, which could raise teacher salaries, reduce class sizes or amplify school programs, Crooks said.
Plan would initially roll back property tax
Unlike SPLOST, no restrictions are placed on the allocation of LEST funds for either operating or capital expenditures, according to the proposal.
In the proposed legislation, counties with populations over 50,000 are guaranteed at least 30 percent of the collected LEST funds would be used to roll back property tax rates, Crooks said.
Whether property taxes could eventually creep back up remains uncertain at this point.
While many agree that Cobb County could use more funding for schools, Tracey-Ann Nelson, the director of government relations at Georgia Association of Educators, is unsure how the tax would impact the state’s support of education.
“My only worry about this is, does this mean that state legislators are off the hook for fully funding education?” she asked.
Nelson said the GAE was evaluating and reviewing how the legislation might be implemented before they take a position.
A long road ahead
To become a law, the legislation would need to be originated in the House of Representatives, because it deals with taxing the population, and then be approved by two-thirds of both the House and the Senate before the state Constitution could be amended, said Sen. Lindsay Tippins (R-west Cobb).
Once a bill is approved, the majority of the state population would need to approve the legislation in a general election before counties could decide to individually vote to implement a LEST, Tippins said.
There was a similar bill proposed last year that tried to split the current Ed-SPLOST into two groups –– capital improvement, and maintenance and operations –– but was shot down before it got to the discussion stage, Tippins said.
Smaller, rural counties that don’t generate enough sales-tax revenue to benefit from county-wide taxes like LEST might not be supportive of this legislation, added Tippins, as the revenue collected from property taxes might be greater.
He thinks it will be easier to pass a similar split-tax in Cobb County than institute an entirely new tax, but it is too early to tell how the legislation will be received, as it is still being written.