It is anyone’s guess what the consequences will be from the unimaginable deficits the national government is creating to help people and businesses get through the coronavirus pandemic. Not since World War II, when our survival was at stake, have we spent this kind of money. This time things may be a little bit different, though. Technology was already replacing a lot of jobs, and with people who are still employed able to work from home because of it, we may see the cascading effect as office jobs and offices in buildings are replaced through all sorts of artificial intelligence.

The federal government, as we all know, can “print” money unlike state and local governments. Economists can figure out how the national debt will be paid---or not. I much prefer being an observer right now than a politician trying to sort through all the problems associated with the coronavirus. It makes one wonder why anyone would put themselves in front of the voters considering the flak coming their way from all sides. But I’m glad and grateful that there are decent people willing to do it, and I thank them.

Cobb County has a primary election on June 9th where the incumbent commission chairman, Mike Boyce, has two Republican challengers, Larry Savage and Ricci Mason. Boyce is completing his first term of four years. He is a retired marine colonel with thirty years in the corps. Savage has run for this position twice before, and his campaigns have been consistent: no new taxes, cut spending, cut waste.

I don’t think anyone would argue against Savage’s goals, but he has a way to go to make his case on how he would pay for some of the best government services in the country with the resources he has. Cobb’s police and fire departments are as professional as any in the country. Boyce has committed to raising the salaries of our public safety officers to reduce turnover, and to pay them a living wage that would allow those starting out to be able to afford a home in the county they serve.

I doubt anyone in Cobb County will say that public safety officers don’t deserve more, but when it comes to paying for it, well, that’s another story. Invariably, the argument seems to fall back on the catch-all: cut waste. But what is waste to one person is bread and butter to  another---sort of like the slogan you see on some honey wagons.

Recall that only a couple of years ago when Boyce faced a tight budget, he implemented a $5/month user fee on those who use the senior centers, which are very popular with retirees. The outcry was deafening. Yet many of the same complainants were equally outraged when they didn’t get a cost of living on their Social Security, something the taxpayers also have to fund. It’s human nature to want to shift the cost of everything to someone else.

Savage calls Boyce “Tax Hike Mike”, one of his campaign slogans, because Boyce had to raise taxes a few years ago that essentially restored what had been cut by a previous commission. Yet for the quality services Cobb provides, we pay some of the lowest taxes in Georgia. Those over 62, to include me, don’t pay the school tax, which is the largest portion of our property taxes. I think only three counties in Georgia provide this exemption, and it is the third rail of local politics for anyone to dare propose eliminating it.

Savage wrote a letter to the MDJ published on May 8th in which he lamented the fourteen percent across-the-board cuts Governor Brian Kemp has ordered for all agencies. This includes education, in which Savage expressed justifiable concern. He described the cut as “a crushing loss to Cobb County School District.”

Savage points out in his letter that “The Development Authority of Cobb County, Home Depot and the other clients who have enjoyed generous tax abatements in recent years could voluntarily surrender their special deals and start paying normal taxes to the school district.” This is a fair political debate, one that Savage can look forward to initiating if he should win the primary and general election.

Interestingly, though, the much bigger pot of money that is off the table is the senior exemption, something Savage ignored in his letter. Shouldn’t there be a discussion of perhaps means testing those who qualify for it to come up with a fair amount that seniors should contribute? When a current school board member proposed something along this line, she was pilloried. Perhaps Savage could revisit her idea if he is serious about solutions to fund the schools during this fiscally unimaginable time. Does he have the political fortitude to begin this conversation? Savage closed his letter with these words, “Cobb County School District is the one thing we all share that must be protected at all costs.” The last two words in this sentence could ultimately define him.

Savage told a magazine that the person he admired most was Ronald Reagan, who I voted for twice. There is much to admire about him, but let’s be honest---while Reagan cut taxes, he also raised them several times, and his deficits were the largest in history until a few decades later. Is Savage a fiscal conservative a la Reagan?

Savage promises no new taxes on his watch. This is a tough time to make that commitment. I wonder if his other role model is former Kansas governor, Sam Brownback. Brownback cut taxes using the failed trickledown theory to bring in more revenue. Instead, the schools experienced a devastating loss of income, and Brownback left office as one of the most unpopular governors in Kansas history.

Perhaps Savage should heed the words of Alexandre Dumas, “He didn’t predict the future, he knew the past---often a more dangerous thing.”

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