To the Contrary

Many will suffer from school funding changes

I suppose it was a forgone conclusion that the lawmakers in the S.C. General Assembly who pushed for and got their Act 388 would now bury their heads in the sand and ignore the problems created by their short-sighted law.

For those who don't read newspapers and don't own a house, Act 388 eliminated the school operations portion from property tax bills of owner-occupied dwellings. For example, I paid about one-third less in taxes on my home this past year vs. last year.

Hooray! Right? Well, not exactly. Don't get me wrong. While I support keeping property taxes -- and all taxes -- as low as humanly possible, I'm not interested in (more) bone-headed laws that use sleight-of-hand accounting to trick the public.

Herald reporter Jessica Schonberg's March 16 story, "Proposal aimed to ease revenue shortfalls at area schools," covered the proposed stopgap measure by state Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, to stem the hemorrhaging that will surely occur if Act 388 is allowed to have its way with our four local York County school districts.

"The further along we get, the more people will see that something has to be done," said Hayes, whose proposal would at least provide enough money for local school districts to keep their lights on next year.

Penny sales tax

As I understand it, Act 388 replaced the school operations portion of owner-occupied dwellings with a statewide 1-cent sales tax. Literally, the law gives us one cent for our school system.

Maybe that's all it's worth, given the fact that most of the folks who ginned up this law and supported it were probably educated in this system. More likely, just as many of them attended expensive private schools.

That's because this law favors the rich and punishes the poor, while it also favors the poor and punishes the rich. It favors the rich (homeowners in general, and big and fancy homeowners in particular) with large cuts to their annual property tax bill.

It punishes the poor (renters in general, and everyone who needs every penny they earn to get by in particular) with higher rents (tax rates on non-owner-occupied dwellings certainly did not go down) and higher sales tax on everything, including the kitchen sink.

Schools punished

At the same time, it punishes the schools in rich counties (those lucky enough to be in the pathway of growth or savvy enough to create their own), and it rewards schools in poor counties (the ones in the boondocks with no tax base and the ones who fritter away opportunities to create growth).

Any way you look at it, Act 388 is a very simplistic and ineffective attempt to solve a complicated and multi-dimensional problem: How to provide a quality education for every child in South Carolina when not every county has the money to pay for it.

While I support Sen. Hayes' support of our local schools, his proposal would not be the first change to Act 388, and it likely will not be the last.

Rather than continue to come up with a patchwork of quick fixes and Band-Aids to this fundamentally flawed law, legislators like Hayes who support adequate funding of our schools ought to lobby harder to put Act 388 back into the legislative oven to cook a good while longer, or scrap the blasted thing all together and start over.

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