Granted, the school districts need funds for various capital projects — the original purpose of the special tax Cobb citizens have voted to impose on themselves time and again but by a razor-thin margin the last time.
In a meeting with school district officials, state Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) and state Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb), former longtime school board member, rightly emphasized it may be difficult to gain approval of SPLOST IV slated for a special election next March. Tippins as usual was on target about support for the new 1-cent tax. He acknowledged, as most Cobb citizens probably would, that there “are legitimate needs” that “most likely will not be met without some additional funding.” However, Tippins made clear the amount of money raised must be tied to clearly defined needs of the school districts.
As Tippins put it, “the exact amount of those legitimate needs need to absolutely be determined on what the absolutely non-negotiable number on what the needs are.” He’s absolutely right. So it comes down to what concrete capital projects are clearly necessary for the schools.
Tippins backed away from saying that the extensive and expansive $717.8 million SPLOST IV list of projects consists entirely of “legitimate needs.” Likewise, Cobb voters have the challenge of examining the list and determining what the legitimate needs are.
Along with taking a fine tooth comb to the projects, voters should consider the way their school officials are handling the process of the SPLOST proposal. On that point, the process now in place is opposed by — among others — the Georgia Tea Party on the ground that it “is putting the cart before the horse,” according to chairman J. D. Van Brink. The problem, he said, speaking of school officials is “We’re figuring out how much money we can raise and then we’re figuring out what to spend it on.” Like Tippins, Van Brink acknowledges “there are some very good things in the project list, things that should be built.”
But, Van Brink says, the process should start with what projects are needed — “then figure out how much it will cost, and then figure out how to pay for it.” Who can argue with that? The problem is that school officials first calculate how much money will be raised by renewing the one percent sales tax. Then once they come up with a figure, they create a list of projects that will use up the money.
That gets to the meat in this coconut — legislation is needed to enable school districts or county governments to impose a fraction of one percent with a SPLOST. That would go far in assuaging voter concerns about the cart-before-the-horse approach and the well-founded reservations about using SPLOST money for a veritable wish list.
Clearly, it is time to change the approach to SPLOSTs in Cobb County.