As a longtime resident of Wake County and a liberal Democrat, I have voted for every local school bond issue proposed over the past 25 years. And every “yes” bond vote I have made has been a vote to increase my own taxes in order to pay off the bonds.
In other words, a dedicated stream of new government revenue was created to finance the bonds. I considered each tax increase as a necessary cost for living in a community that supports education. And how do I know the community supports education? Because the bonds were passed by comfortable majorities of the county’s voting citizenry.
I will vote “no” on the Connect NC bond issue in March. Do I support the higher education and state parks capital expenditures that the bond would fund? Most definitely. But I reject Gov. Pat McCrory’s “no tax increase” shell-game bond financing. If we support new expenditures for education and parks, we should create a clear revenue stream to pay for it: increase taxes.
At one time, a transportation component was attached to the bond initiative. Its fate offers fiscal (and political) insights. Our lawmakers removed the transportation element from the bond proposal, establishing instead the needed revenue stream to pay for the proposed infrastructure projects without a bond issue. How?
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First, they raised taxes. Their gas tax “reform” touted as a tax cut was actually a gas tax increase over existing law, and they raised DMV fees (read “user taxes”) by 30 percent. Furthermore (and very significantly), they ended the transfer of funds from the state Highway Fund into other parts of the budget, so that Highway Funds could hereafter be directed to the transportation projects outlined in the initial omnibus bond proposal.
The Highway Fund issue is troublesome. Peter will be robbed to pay Paul. Presumably worthwhile on-going expenditures from the Highway Fund will be discontinued to accommodate the proposed “bond” transportation projects. So to continue those previous on-going expenditures, a source of funding will be needed. I imagine that in the eyes of our current Republican political overlords, the huge state education budget looks like an inviting source for a bit of reallocation.
And reallocation will be the key to paying for a “no tax increase” bond. One dollar cannot be spent twice, no matter what any politician says. There is no true support of education (or parks) in this bond proposal. Peter will be robbed to pay Paul. The financial obligation of the bond issue if passed will be a given: It must be paid. So the cost will be extracted by the continuing educational trends of stagnant faculty wages, increasing class sizes, a dropping per pupil expenditure and ongoing large tuition hikes in the UNC system (already increased by 42 percent since 2008) and N.C. community colleges (increased by 81 percent since 2009).
If the bond issue passes, I can anticipate McCrory’s self-congratulatory ads in the upcoming gubernatorial campaign – the Champion of Education! My foot. We need to elect politicians who actually support education. And parks. Let’s work on that, and reject this fiscal shame of a bond issue. A grand bipartisan coalition of Democrats, tea party groups, far-right bloggers and your ordinary Republican voter (who views a bond issue with the same relish as a colonoscopy) can do it!
The bond campaign motto is, “Vote yes to invest.” I say, “Vote no, but vote for Democrats who will properly fund education and parks – and quit giving tax cuts to the rich.”
Ned Gardner of Apex is a retired Wake County public school teacher.