Funny how when state lawmakers are facing down a disgruntled electorate they come up with yet another Mickey Mouse modification to the means of raising school taxes. Too watch them strutting their campaign stuff after the notorious midnight pay hike is a sight to behold. Egg on their faces and determined to prove worthy of any paycheck, lawmakers are considering raising the number and amount of property tax rebates paid to cash-strapped seniors.
The rest of us will wait until the gaming revenue-based mess is sorted out. This is not the real reform taxpayers were promised was close at hand. The latest half-baked concoction, derived out of compromises intended to displease none and accommodate all, wound up being rejected by all but a few of the state's 501 school districts.
State legislators hear a steady drumbeat of disgust from seniors. Rightly so, there can be no question under the current system that seniors are the most severely affected group. Seniors also vote in larger numbers proportionate to the overall electorate and are much more inclined to cast ballots in primary elections.
Nearly always savvy when it comes to making sure they keep their jobs, lawmakers in the run up to the May primaries decided to throw a bone to those most capable of turfing them out of office. Cynical, perhaps, but how else do you explain the timing? Coincidence? You can't help wondering, if legislators are so concerned with keeping their jobs, why they gave themselves the pay raise in the underhanded manner they did? Could they not see that folks might be outraged, giving rise to a grass roots campaign to "throw the bums out"? As it has. Such arrogance!
This latest tax modification springs from the same blindness. Lawmakers are trying to buy the senior and the senior-sympathetic vote. Who among us with an ounce of compassion wouldn't side with the elderly living hand-to-mouth, prescription-by-prescription? Such a formula is a presumed win-win for our job security conscious politicians. They are hoping voting folks will consider a bone thrown the seniors better than nothing.
But elections for politicians are like job performance reviews in the real world. This is your opportunity to mark the evaluation sheet, that sacred ballot, with an unqualified "unsatisfactory". Too many of them in the real world and, as they say, be sure not to let the door slam you in the butt on the way out.
Meanwhile, as lawmakers act so as to appear responsive, even responsible, Octorara School directors are contemplating one of the largest millage increases in the district's history. Going in we knew taxes would increase this coming year to pay for debt incurred to build the new school. Pay and health insurance raises were also a given. But the district was sideswiped by increased gas, utility, and transportation costs. Then, last minute, administrators were told health insurance premiums instead of rising by a previously assumed 10 percent were going up by twice that rate.
With few other options, directors are contemplating raiding the district's capital project fund to the tune of almost half million dollars. If approved this would offset by $50 to $60 the $600 to $800 tax increase facing the average homeowner. If sound fiscal planning counts for anything, depletion of the fund this coming year means it must be replenished in the subsequent budget. The repercussions don't stop there. Cut capital funds and refurbishment of the high school, much of it required to conform to code, may have to be delayed. Delay means a higher overall price tag for the project as construction rates increase by about 15 percent a year. So, once again, we can take the hit now or next time.
This is but one of the stratagems school directors are wrestling with as they also consider cost-cutting staff reductions and other short term accounting antics to soften this year's blow to taxpayers. It's a game of robbing Peter to pay Paul, symptomatic of a system that is beyond broken and with no substantive fix in sight.
Is this the best our lawmakers can do in a society that counts acquisition of a good education among its highest ideals? If not, perhaps its time to count yourselves among those who would throw the bums out. How could a new slate of state lawmakers be any less effective than those currently wasting space in the State Capitol?
Tav Murray lives in Christiana. His e-mail address is email@example.com.