I’ve heard the most potent arguments in favor of the tax increase known as the “override,” and, as a conservative, I’m not convinced.
Last November, the voters of this community resoundingly defeated the override. Now, the school board has decided we all need another bite at the apple, albeit this time in an off-cycle election that will cost the taxpayers $328,000.
While the rest of us have seen our home values and incomes reduced in recent years and made commensurate cuts to our household budgets, the board has voted to give raises and raise the primary tax rate, and is now asking for another tax increase in an effort to completely insulate the school district from any of the negative economic effects the rest of us are dealing with.
We’re told there’s no “hidden pot of money.” But growth of per pupil spending in GPS has dramatically outpaced inflation over the last 11 years, even as the percentage of dollars spent in the classroom has decreased. Furthermore, the district has had additional override funds at its disposal for the last five years. If there’s no rainy day fund, it isn’t due to a lack of funding from the taxpayers. The lack of reserves speaks more to mismanagement of the budget than it does to a dire need for higher taxes.
Conservatives know that agencies at every level of government spend every penny of budget every year to demonstrate the “need” for that agency, and that it is, in fact, “underfunded.” Yet who among us takes this as evidence these agencies are run efficiently? What’s more, they will never become efficient as long as we grant additional override dollars year after year.
While the burden of proof for the override rests squarely with those who would raise our taxes, we who oppose this override — including several who worked to defeat the proposed sales tax increase known as Prop. 406 — have looked at the numbers, and have, in fact, identified areas for increased efficiency. Certain categories of non-classroom spending have grown disproportionately over the last several years, far out of line with the growth in the number of students in the district. Bringing those areas back in line with that growth would almost single-handedly eliminate the need for an override!
This brings me to the coming implementation of zero-based budgeting (ZBB), which, oddly, has been cited as a reason to support the override. I welcome ZBB and am excited to see what it yields. Of course, the primary purpose of zero-based budgeting is to root out endemic waste and avoid the need for budget overrides in the first place! The idea that we should “reward” the district now with more override dollars, based on the promise of implementing ZBB in the future, is absurd and defeats the purpose entirely.
Regarding the funding of our schools, localities already can — and do — provide additional funds above and beyond the equalized amounts they receive from the state through variations in the primary tax rate, which, incidentally, this board voted to increase earlier this year. An override is just the extra “whipped cream” piled on top, used not to fund teachers’ salaries, but to fund pet projects and grease the palms of the crony capitalists who have made a comfortable living feeding at the public trough.
Conservatives know the appetite of any government agency — even one whose mission is as noble as that of the public schools — is truly insatiable. There is no amount of money we can give them that will ever satisfy. There will always be one more program to fund, one more building to build, one more coordinator to hire. But when government expands, freedom is lost.
Government can, and should, live within its means, just like the rest of us have to. None of us who work and pay the taxes that fund the schools can demand a 6.6 percent pay raise, for the next seven years, because our current salary won’t quite cover our wish list. Rather than leaning on the public again for more taxes that will only continue to mask the problem, let’s focus honest effort on reducing the waste and bureaucracy in the district. Our schools, our kids, and our community will be stronger for it.
• Jeff Smith of Gilbert is a legislative district 12 precinct committeeman.