A couple of things this week.
First, at this month’s Johnston County Board of Education meeting, board member Butler Hall likened retired superintendent Ed Croom to tennis star Maria Sharapova. Seriously.
Because Sharapova had been taking a recently banned drug for a decade, she isn’t like the thug athletes who take banned substances simply to increase performance, Mr. Hall said. And because Dr. Croom had been converting perks to pay for several years, he isn’t like those government employees who spike their pay as they near retirement so they can collect fatter pensions, he added.
Mr. Hall is right to compare Dr. Croom to Ms. Sharapova; he just doesn’t know how right.
Consider the following:
The only reason to convert perks to pay is to increase pension-eligible salary. It doesn’t matter whether it’s done early on or late in the game, the result is the same. And according to drug experts, Meldonium is intended for short-term use only – a matter of weeks, not years – so why take it for a decade?
In defending herself before tennis’ governing body, Sharapova is likely to plead ignorance, her attorney says, When tennis banned meldonium, it used that word, which is the drug’s generic name. Sharapova knew the drug only by its brand name, her attorney says. Dr. Croom also pleaded ignorance, saying he was ill-informed about the state law that banned pension spiking at state taxpayer expense. Again, Mr Hall was right to compare the tennis player to the former superintendent. Sharapova received an email in which tennis announced its ban on meldonium. Dr. Croom attended a conference that, among other things, explained the pension-spiking ban.
The difference between the tennis player and the former superintendent is that Ms. Sharapova admitted that what she did was wrong, and she has taken full responsibility for her actions. Dr. Croom has admitted no mistakes; instead he has criticized the law that puts his fatter pension on the backs of Johnston taxpayers, not on the shoulders of state taxpayers, whom he thought would pick up the tab.
Ms. Sharapova is already paying for her mistake. Nike, one of her sponsors, has suspended its relationship with the tennis star. Dr. Croom has returned $50,000 that he received to make up for a pension cut that he never suffered. Meanwhile, Johnston taxpayers remain on the hook for $508,000 that Dr. Croom granted himself with school board approval.
So we want to thank Mr. Hall for comparing Dr. Croom to Ms. Sharapova. Johnston taxpayers now know just how similar the tennis player and former superintendent are – and just how different they are in one key respect.
What’s slowing sales-tax growth?
In Clayton, sales-tax receipts are growing again after the recession, but the pace of that growth has slowed in the past year.
Town Manager Steve Biggs thinks consumers, in the years immediately after the recession, unleashed their pent-up desire to spend. Seven years after the recession officially ended, consumer spending is returning to normal growth levels, he says.
Town Councilman Michael Grannis thinks consumers spend cautiously in a presidential election year because they’re uncertain what policies the next president will pursue that could take money out of their pockets. In short, they’re dialing back their spending this year because they don’t know what the future holds.
Both could be right, but both, we think, are discounting other factors that could also be contributing to the slower pace of spending growth.
For many North Carolinians, including Clayton residents, health-insurance premiums ballooned this year, taking disposable income out of their pockets. The insurance companies blame the Affordable Care Act, but no matter the cause, consumers are paying more for health insurance, leaving fewer dollars for goods and services.
The Town of Clayton has also taken disposable income out of the pockets of consumers. A 2.5-cent increase in the property-tax rate has added hundreds of thousands of dollars to town coffers – and taken, potentially, hundreds of thousands of dollars out of the cash registers of retailers, restaurants and service providers.
No doubt, many things affect consumer spending. But while ObamaCare and a return to normalcy might be among them, local government shouldn’t dismiss or ignore its role in how much money people have to spend at Walmart.