Georgia Tea Party’s (GTPI) decision to oppose the ED-SPLOST did not come lightly. The board considered the questionable practice of holding a special election in March instead of at a normal election time. We looked at the process used in determining the project list and then closely scrutinized the SPLOST Notebook. We found little in the Notebook directly related to education and much that focused on enticing specific groups to vote in favor of this tax.
Following several meetings with school board members, district officials and staff, our primary questions remained unanswered.
Exasperated by the lack of detail and planning endemic in this SPLOST and driven by a desire to make sure that tax money for education truly fulfills that objective, the Georgia Tea Party had no alternative but to oppose what ultimately is a wasteful extension of an ostensibly “temporary” tax.
While Georgia Tea Party believes the Cobb school system is one of the best in the state, GTPI acknowledges specific educational needs do exist. Therefore GTPI makes the following recommendations for action when the SPLOST is defeated.
First, we urge school officials to go back to the drawing board and identify real needs and prioritize them as to those that require immediate attention and those that can wait for one, two or three years. Specific health, safety and maintenance issues should be the primary focus and the exact schools requiring attention should be identified.
Second, a detailed justification for each need should be developed. It should include a complete explanation of the origin of the project, what it is, the objectives, the benefit and how success will be measured upon completion. Reasonable cost estimates should be obtained and precise timelines developed. Comparisons should be made with similar, previously-completed projects and if costs or deadlines appear to be padded or unrealistically low, a second or third opinion should be obtained.
Third, a pared-down Notebook should be developed which includes the cost and justification for each project. Austerity should be the prerequisite. New construction should be adequate and not extravagant. If additional infrastructure is required, the source of funding for maintenance, staff, utilities, transportation and support should be determined.
Fourth, all funding options ought to be explored. In today’s low-interest debt environment, many options, such as bonds that may not have been desirable a few years ago, may be suitable now.
Fifth, regardless of the source of funding, the new Notebook would need to be presented to the public and a referendum held at a time corresponding with a regular general election, the next being November 4, 2014. If emergency funding is required, short term funding could be obtained with the debt pay-off an integral part of the 2014 Notebook.
GTPI believes a long-term vision for education in Cobb is essential, but since educational requirements are becoming increasingly fluid, any Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax should focus on near-term projects that are truly “special,” and of which all consequences have been determined.
GTPI is offering a reasonable approach. Its simplicity yields transparency. Its short-term character yields efficiency and accountability. It discourages waste by first fixing the things that need to be fixed, and allowing time for a more deliberate approach to the larger projects that do not require immediate action.
GTPI’s objective is to help improve education in our county, state and nation by making sure that every tax dollar spent yields a full dollar in benefit for our children.
J.D. Van Brink
Chair, Georgia Tea Party