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Extending the sales tax for schools makes sense, even in this difficult economy

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If you could ensure that decades of local school needs would be met with just a couple seconds of your time – and very little effort – you’d probably do it.

Well, you can.

Among fewer than a handful of items on the ballot for Tuesday’s election here is a question of whether to extend the current Richmond County 1-cent special sales tax for education, which funds capital improvements and equipment.

In other words, it’s how we keep the buildings up and equipped.

And there’s plenty of work to be done, even in Phase IV of the program. Buildings at Laney High School (circa 1950) and Butler High School (circa 1960) need serious upgrading – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In all, a state assessment last year identified some $326 million in capital improvement needs in the Richmond County school district. That’s the considered opinion by outside experts of our most pressing needs – not a mere wish list for those on the inside.

This phase, approved by the Board of Education late last year after months of study, includes but $142 million of the most-needed projects.

These are things that, over time, either get done or buildings become endangered. Just as important, the education of students suffers if we neglect the environs they toil in.

This particular method of funding those improvements could hardly be better or less painful.

For one thing, the tax is already there; this would simply extend it beyond this year for another five.

For another thing, sales taxes are among the least aggravating to pay, doing so as we do in bits and pieces over time and only when we choose to buy things.

And some 40 percent of the tax is contributed by visitors and those who pass through. So the burden is stretched far beyond that of, say, the property tax.

This is not the best environment for taxes, obviously. But even in a difficult economy, it’s smart to invest in both the community and in education. This does both. And how can we ask anyone else to invest in Augusta if we’re not willing to?

Still, it says something remarkable about this issue that even in the most challenging financial climate of most of our lives, extending the education sales tax is as close a no-brainer as you’ll ever see on a ballot.

The only knocks on it are completely misguided. One holds that there are millions in unspent sales tax funds, which is a myth. People who think that may be conjuring up past news stories that the city government has been delinquent in completing sales tax projects. In reality, the school district’s past three sales tax phases have led to 151 projects – all done on time, on budget and without lawsuits, according to school district attorney Pete Fletcher.

The other complaint is that we shouldn’t be spending money on bricks and mortar when teachers are underpaid and are even losing pay through state “furlough” days. Problem is, that’s an entirely different issue, involving a completely different revenue stream. By law, sales taxes can’t be used to boost salaries, only for capital projects.

We need to focus on the task at hand: making sure this city’s school infrastructure is up to 21st century challenges, and up to the standards we want to set for our children.

That focus shouldn’t be a problem this Tuesday. There isn’t much else on your Super Tuesday ballot.

But even if there were, there might not be anything more important to your community.

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dichotomy 03/03/12 - 10:18 pm
We get a failed system in

We get a failed system in exchange for 50% of our property taxes so it's such a deal for us to give them this one cent sales tax too. I am not inclined to continue to feed the monster. I know it's for capital improvements but what we get is huge new schools that still stink. I am not inclined to continue "capital" improvements until the BOE shows some interest in improving the product. I haven't seen much interest in that in the last 20 years or so. How about I keep my penny for a few years and give them a chance to get their clown act together. Show us some progress and we will show you the money. Capital improvements ain't helping apparently.

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