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Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County School District Half-Cent Sales Tax Surcharge: Vague, Misleading, and Wrong

Sign: Future of Columbia | Columbia County Observer Graphic

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Way at the end of this year's County Ballot is a “yes” or “no” vote for a half-cent sales tax surcharge for school improvements. It is ill-thought-out, lacks specific detail, and includes patently wrong and misleading statements.

A Sales Tax Is A Regressive Tax

A regressive tax is a tax that is unfairly imposed on lower-income families. Sales tax is a regressive tax because people who earn less pay a larger percentage of their salary in the form of sales tax. The more one earns, the lower is the sales tax as a component of one's earnings.

All studies show that Florida is generally in the top three states with the most regressive tax structures.

Recently, Florida moved past Texas as being the second most regressive taxing state.

A comprehensive analysis of Unites States tax structure can be found here: ITEP: Who Pays?

Florida’s tax system of funding the state through sales tax, excise tax, and fees gives its richest residents the lowest overall tax burden.

A graph of sales tax as a percent of income
Graphic source: https://www.accuratetax.com

Previously, County voters turned down the Jail half-cent surtax. The school surtax is worse.

The Law

The School District can educate about the surtax referendum, but it can’t advocate.

The District has chosen Diana Swisher to lead the education component to raise the sales tax for Columbia County residents and those passing through the County.

The advocates of the increased sales tax formed a PAC – Political Action Committee – just like the politicians do to advocate for the passage of the increased sales tax.

Diana Swisher, the full-time volunteer coordinator for the District, is also the chair of the Political Action Committee, leading the charge to raise the sales tax.

What’s the Plan, “Sam?”

Only the Vaguest of Plans & a Wish List

The County School website doesn’t make it easy to find the half-cent sales tax information.

 school board member Charles Maxwell. 2009
In 2009, School Board member Charles Maxwell was the only member of any elected Columbia County board that saw the value in impact fees.

The District's information is short on definitive answers, short to non-existent on actual financial planning, and its motto, “Investing in our Community, One Student at a Time,” has nothing to do with the half-cent sales surtax referendum, which is about school facility improvements.

The County political action committee (PAC) is registered under Funding Our Future. Its financial statements can be found on the Supervisor of Elections website.

Peruse the PAC's financial filings, and one will find the majority of the donations are coming from contractors, those who will directly benefit from the passage of the sales tax increase. The School District’s Attorney, Douglas & Douglas, also made a nice donation.

The PAC’s website has a different name from its registered name. The PAC’s website is called Future of Columbia. Scroll down a little on the PAC's home page, and you will find the statement: "Sales tax is a FAIR tax because everyone pays."

The PAC: False Statements Given to the Public As True

As mentioned earlier, a sales tax is patently unfair because those that earn the least, proportionately pay the most.

The PAC also states that if the half-cent "surtax" is not passed, property taxes will go up, further stating that this "only burdens homeowners."

This is fear-mongering and not correct. Businesses pay school taxes just like everybody else. School taxes on one's property tax bill will go up.

Unlike property taxes, the state deems school taxes so important that they cannot be abated.

The Future of Columbia also states that the District would have to access impact fees if the "surtax" doesn't pass.

The school district does not access impact fees. That is the job of the County 5.

The last time the County saw impact fees was in 2008. See: Impact fees going the way of the dodo bird. Only Board Member Maxwell speaks up for the District.

Impact fees pay for the impact development has on infrastructure.

An impact fee is typically a one-time payment imposed by a local government on a property developer. The fee is meant to offset a new development's financial impact on public infrastructure. Public infrastructure includes schools, roads, parks, recreational facilities, water, sewerage, and other services.

In 2009, School Board member Charles Maxwell was the only elected official in Columbia County with the guts to stand up against the County's special business interests, read the Chamber of Commerce and County builders.

If the County fathers had listened to Mr. Maxwell, some of the County's schools wouldn't be in the pitiful shape they are now.

Future of Columbia has incorrectly stated impact fees only burden business owners. This is not true.

Santa Clause Lives: It’s called the proposed half-cent surtax

Planning has not been the forte of the Columbia County School District.

The project list (wish list) for the projected district windfall from the surtax, if passed, looks like something a little kid would put under a Christmas tree. It doesn’t have one projected price and zero explanations.

A close look at some items on the list is damning to the school board and the administration, as many items appear to be maintenance items.

Columbia County has difficulty retaining an recruiting teachers. The teacher pay scale is the main cause, as teachers can leave the district and immediately get pay raises of thousands of dollars.

This plan does nothing to address teacher pay because all money must go toward facilities.

Epilogue: Vote “No”

The District needs to develop a real plan that does not pander to special interests, is responsible and well thought out, and is vetted by the public.

This is not the half-cent sales tax surcharge.

The proposed surtax should be voted down.

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