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Sarasota Thursday, Mar. 27, 2014 3 years ago

Our view


The high-fiving and “woo-hoo”s Tuesday night among Sarasota County public-school insiders, no doubt, was spirited.

What a stunning, overwhelming victory.

Seventy-seven percent of those voting cast a “yes” vote to extend the Sarasota County Public School District’s one-mill property tax another four years.

A remarkable landslide, to be sure.

And a booming endorsement and affirmation for the school district and the job it is doing.

Yes, we’ll acknowledge: Compared with the vast majority of Florida’s other 66 public school districts,

Sarasota County’s is among the top five in terms of student performance. The school district appears to be doing a lot right.

(Wink, wink: It’s all relative, of course. Just ask any employer.)

Still, those who voted appear to have made the emphatic statement: Keep up the good work. We’ll gladly pay the extra tax. It’s worth it. And we believe in the public- school system.

But now flip the coin. Consider this:

That is the number of Sarasota County registered voters who did not vote.

In other words, 83% of Sarasota County’s voters made the decision not to express their support or dissatisfaction. They decided not to make this vote and the tax a priority in their lives.

Not even 20% — fewer than one of every five people in the county — voted on a $170 million tax.

In contrast, just 16 months ago, 75% of the county’s registered voters — 208,621 people — voted in the presidential election.

What an extraordinary swing.

What does that say?

To be sure, there are many ways to interpret the pathetic voter turnout.

Public-school advocates likely might say those who didn’t vote are satisfied with the status quo. We all know from our own experiences you seldom hear from satisfied customers; complainers are always much more vocal. If those 228,189 people who didn’t vote were dissatisfied with the tax and the schools, you can bet many more of them would have voted.

Another explanation is those who didn’t vote may not be satisfied, but they were not sufficiently dissatisfied to motivate them to vote “no.” Whatever pain they may have — say, with the amount of school taxes they are paying — the pain was not high enough to make them vote to stop the pain and stop the tax.

That certainly is plausible. Especially when you think of all of the retirees here who relocated from the tax hells of New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts or Michigan. Florida is a bargain for them, so the extra mill on their property-tax bill is hardly felt.

On that point, to an extent, property taxes remind us of the observation late economist Milton Friedman made about automatic payroll deductions for Social Security and federal income taxes. He called it one of the greatest inventions of all time.

Think about it: When employees receive their paychecks, the tax money has already been confiscated. Employees see how much went to the government. But imagine how employees would feel about income taxes if they were required to write a weekly check to the federal government.

Likewise with property taxes. Renters have no clue what their landlords are paying in property taxes. It’s calculated in their monthly rent. School tax? They have no pain.

Property owners, of course, can see each summer on their tax bills how much they’re paying for schools, municipalities and the county government. And they write checks directly to the tax collector. But the intellectual thought process between paying those taxes in the fall and voting on a school tax in March is a clever disconnection.

If anything should be changed, it’s the time of voting. It should be the same as the general elections in November. You can be sure that would change the voting results.

What’s more, we can’t help but wonder how voters would respond to the school referendum if, say, they spent a week in one of the county’s public middle schools or high schools. See what goes on, or what doesn’t go on. That would be eye-opening.

Or what if all taxpayers were required to read the teachers’ union contracts? That would change voters’ perspectives on school taxes for sure.

Fact is, an overwhelming majority of Sarasota County’s population is far enough removed from the public schools for them to be engaged at a level to care about a one-mill special referendum. Of the county’s 380,000 population, only 11%, or 41,700 children, attend the county’s public schools. That’s even fewer than the total who voted Tuesday.

It’s like the annual candy drive for your neighborhood school. It annoys parents to think they’ll have to schlep around the neighborhood with their child to sell $100 worth of crummy candy for the annual school fundraiser. It’s much easier just to write a check for $100 and be done with it.

So it is with the one-mill school tax. It would be a monumental pain to try to argue against it and attempt to change the public-school system. Good gosh, think of the school board defenders, the unions and the public-school believers. Insurmountable. It’s just so much easier to do nothing and not vote.

So school-district advocates should go ahead and woo-hoo for their Big (pathetic-turnout) Victory. Enjoy the extra cash these next four years … because disruptive innovation — e.g. online learning and online schools — will end the taxpayers’ willingness to fund irrational teacher-union demands and the public-school apparatchiks.

+ How to boost voter turnout
Here’s a suggestion for improving voter turnout in Sarasota County:

For the next special election, Sarasota County and city commissioners should add the following questions to the ballot:

• Should Sarasota County and city taxpayers fund the construction of a homeless shelter to be located in downtown Sarasota?

• Should Sarasota County and city taxpayers fund the construction of a homeless shelter to be located in the northern Sarasota city limits, north of Fruitville Road?

• Should Sarasota County and North Port taxpayers fund the construction of a homeless shelter in North Port city limits?

As we observe the discussions about homeless shelters — principally between the elected city and county commissioners and expert Dr. Robert Marbut — a key constituent seems to be absent: taxpayers.

Who is speaking for them?

If asked, of course, taxpayers, predictably and likely, would say “no way.” They know what would happen if one or more shelter is built. Indeed, Sarasota police Lt. Kevin Stiff was quite explicit reporting to commissioners a few weeks ago about his visits to homeless shelters in San Antonio, San Diego, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

None of the residents and business owners he interviewed said a homeless shelter had a positive impact on the community. What a surprise.

We can understand the commissioners’ desire to do something about Sarasota’s homelessness. But the thought of taxpayers funding new shelters should immediately light a bulb: Conveying the construction and operation of homeless shelters to the government is a recipe for failure. When in your lifetime has the government functioned better than the private sector at providing any service?

Sure, homelessness is a challenge for every community. But addressing it is best left to churches and private charitable organizations — the grassroots of a community.

+ Unbelievable …
In case you don’t read The Wall Street Journal, this was too amazing not to share. From “Notable & Quotable” in the March 26 edition:

“The 2009 economic stimulus package promoted by President Obama included $5 billion to weatherize some 607,000 homes — with the goals of both spurring the economy and increasing energy efficiency.

“But the project was required to comply with a statute called the Davis-Bacon Act (signed into law by President Hoover in 1931), which provides that construction projects with federal funding must pay workers the ‘prevailing wage’ — basically a union perk that costs taxpayers about 20% more than actual labor rates.

“This requirement comes with a mass of red tape; bureaucrats in the Labor Department must set wages, as a matter of law, for each category of construction worker in each of three thousand counties in America.
“There was no schedule for ‘weatherproofers.’ So the Labor Department began a slow trudge of determining how much weatherproofers should be paid in Merced County, Calif.; Monmouth County, N.J.; and several thousand other counties. The stimulus plan had projected that California would weatherproof 2,500 homes per month. At the end of 2009, the actual total was 12.”

Philip K. Howard, “The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government”


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