Talk of removing the exemption won't go away. Some want to do away with it entirely, and some merely want to tinker with it - i.e., raising the age at which one becomes eligible for it, enacting an income restriction or requiring residency requirements, for example.
"I would favor a resolution to review the current tax and compare it to what other counties are doing," said big-spending Post 2 school board member Holli Cash of southeast Cobb, who is up for re-election this fall. "(But) I do think there should be a senior tax exemption of some kind."
That's not exactly a ringing endorsement for keeping the tax exemption.
Cash typically has blamed the school system's problems on everybody but the school board and has complained about the legislature's failure to hike taxes during the recession to help local schools. So it comes as no surprise that she would have an open mind to ending or altering the senior tax exemption.
Likewise, Post 4 candidate Bill Borden of northeast Cobb said he is against repealing the exemption, but left himself some wiggle room by saying that voters should have the option of repealing, keeping or adjusting the tax. But he gave no indication of whether he knows the process must originate with the school board.
For the record Cash's opponent, Patrick Stafford, and Borden's opponent, Kathleen Angelucci, favor keeping the exemption as is.
Dr. Rick Welkis, the lone Democrat running for the Post 6 seat in east Cobb, is wide open to the possibility of junking the exemption, thought doing so probably would further doom his candidacy in that already heavily Republican district.
"I would need to see the revenue projections associated with each year above 62 (i.e., 65 vs. 62) in order to make a decision on whether to raise the age," he said.
Neither Republican running for that post, Jim Snell nor Scott Sweeney, favors ending the exemption.
Watch out, taxpayers. If there was ever a question to which it was easy to answer a clear "yes" or "no," it was the one on the questionnaire asking candidates about their willingness to do away with or monkey around with the exemption and thereby raise taxes. And neither Cash, Borden nor Welkis was willing to answer with an unequivocal "no."
State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell), who's up for re-election and whose husband David Morgan serves on the school board, said she thinks that exemption and others should be reviewed.
"Quite frankly, you're giving too many exemptions as a state - not necessarily the one given to seniors," she said. "In these serious economic times that we're in, the silver lining here is that it's forcing us to look at who gets exemptions and why and do the ends justify the means."
WELL, IN ANSWER to her question, more than 39,000 county residents are taking advantage of that optional tax break. The exemption has been in place for decades, keeps $55.5 million worth of taxes in the pockets of Cobb residents this budget year, rather than in the hands of the profligate school board, and was never an issue when the system was flush with cash.
And if the current school administration and school board had proven themselves good financial stewards when the times were good, there would be a better argument now for ending or altering the exemption.
But instead, the opposite has been the case. Superintendent Fred Sanderson badly mishandled this year's budget crisis, keeping the numbers and alternatives close to his vest for far too long. Thanks to his unpreparedness the system ultimately was forced to lay off approximately 1,000 teachers, with all the heartache that entails - yet inexplicably announced within a matter of weeks that it would begin hiring about half of them back.
And let's not forget the board's determination to keep letting central office staff and principals accrue unpaid vacation days, then pocket lump-sum payments for them when they leave the system. Moreover, like school administrations everywhere, the Cobb system's top-heavy central office on Glover Street has no shortage of overpaid administrators even as class sizes have been expanded as a result of the budget crisis.
As state Rep. Don Parsons (R-northeast Cobb) told the MDJ last week, "I my sixteen years in the legislature, I have heard members of the Cobb school board whine and complain about this exemption, but not one of them has ever put his or her signature on a request to remove it and I doubt that any would be willing to do so today."
"The Cobb school system has been top heavy as long as I have dealt with it, and continues to be top heavy. I would like for the system to show me one thing that their many layers of administration have taught the children of Cobb County. Our teachers are the ones who teach our children."
Added state Rep. Terry Johnson (D-Fair Oaks), "You would be hard-pressed to find legislators that would blatantly attempt to generate more tax revenue on the shoulders of our elderly through elimination of this popular exemption."
And declared District 41 legislative candidate Calvin Rhodes of east Cobb, "Many seniors live on fixed incomes and simply cannot afford more taxes. ... Raising the age of the senior exemption would indicate you agree we are spending the almost $18 billion state budget effectively - I don't."
Nor do many others.
COMBINE this administration's poor stewardship with its credibility problems and it becomes a case of "This is the last bunch you would want to trust with more tax dollars."
And the perhaps the best argument for keeping the senior tax exemption was the adage uttered by candidate Ronald Reagan at a Cobb County campaign rally during his 1980 presidential run: "The American people are not undertaxed. Our government just overspends."
It was true then, and it's even truer now.