Banks is giving his support to the new tax effort led by John Crooks and Don Hill, members of the Facilities and Technology Committee of the school board. Crooks, a minister at Roswell Street Baptist Church, is a former school board member who got in a lot of hot water and escaped a recall after violating state law by failing to give advance notice of a vote on a cell tower, saying “it would have probably caused a circus.” Instead, it caused an uproar among his constituents. Hill is a former chairman of the Cobb Republican Party, an unlikely portfolio for a tax hike proposal.
The objective here is a hugely daunting one — amending the Georgia Constitution to allow the Cobb school district to impose a Local Education Sales Tax, or LEST. Crooks, who is president of the Cobb Schools Foundation, said he has been getting requests from teachers who want money to increase teacher training days, and thus, he decided to support the LEST proposal.
“As a Republican, I don’t get all tingly over taxes,” Crooks said. “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. And if people choose a sales tax to help improve their quality of life then so be it.”
It’s good to know that Crooks does not get tingly over taxes because if that’s the case with him, think how the vast majority of Cobb voters feel about another 1-cent sales tax — which would amount to a 16.6 percent increase in the existing 6 percent tax.
There is an especially worthy feature of the LEST proposal. It would provide that at least 30 percent of the taxes collected must be used to roll back property taxes, according to Crooks, although it is not yet clear if exemptions from the tax would be made for food, gasoline, prescription drugs or other necessities.
The proposed bill as of now would give any county with more than 50,000 population the option to levy a 10-year, 1-cent tax for a school district’s general fund. Unlike the existing school SPLOST which can only be used for capital improvements, proceeds of a LEST could be spent at the discretion of the school board for operational expenses and any educational purpose including teacher salary increases or reducing class sizes or any other need.
The first challenge for the LEST proponents is to round up a two-thirds affirmative vote by both houses of the General Assembly. If that should unexpectedly succeed, the proposal still would need approval by voters in a statewide referendum. Then finally, county voters would have to approve a new 1-cent sales tax. All in all, the LEST plan is unlikely to get off the ground, and clearly, a tax increase is not an idea whose time has come in Cobb, in Georgia or in America.