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Sarasota Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 3 years ago

Our view


It’s pretty much of a foregone conclusion that Sarasota County voters next March will approve for the fourth time a four-year extension of the one-mill, local-option school property tax.

Sarasota’s retiree voters have always had a soft spot for public schools. And they’re convinced this tax, which generates about $44 million a year on average, is essential to maintaining the Sarasota County Public School District’s status as one of the top districts in the state.

It’s probably safe to say about the only way you might persuade Sarasota County voters not to approve the tax would be to show them, say, teachers and administrators making training videos while partying half nude in their Las Vegas hotel rooms. That, of course, is how it’s done at the Internal Revenue Service.

Nonetheless, voters shouldn’t go to the polls next March and blindly scribble pencil-lead in the “yes” bubble on the ballot. At least know to what you’re saying “yes.” In that vein, in the coming weeks, we intend to give you some context and information to help you be more than one of those “low-information voters” whom Rush Limbaugh disdains.

If you go to the Sarasota County School District website (, look for the button on the lower left side of the home page, titled “Referendum Info.” There’s a great 12-page Appendix B that spells out year by year how the district has spent the $529.3 million it has collected over the past 12 years. As sold to voters, the money has covered the cost mostly of teachers. And it has done so well.

Indeed, in the table titled “Teacher Salaries,” you can see Sarasota County teachers on average are paid far above the average statewide teacher salaries. You get what you pay for; at least that’s the saying.

What we don’t show in the tables are the results — how Sarasota County students are doing vis-a-vis their peers. On last year’s Florida Comprehensive Achievement Tests, Sarasota County eighth-graders’ scores placed them second in math and seventh in reading among Florida’s 67 school districts. Backers of the tax, no doubt, will say those rankings confirm the efficacy of the tax.

Everything’s debatable, of course.

When you compare American students’ achievement to those of their international peers, we’re not so swell. U.S. students ranked 16th in science and 23rd in math among 57 industrialized countries on the Programme for International Student Assessment tests.

One thing that has been proven for sure is that pouring more money into the schools isn’t the answer to improving student achievement. It takes more than that, and maybe even less money than the schools are getting now. We’ll discuss that trick in a future edition.

Cost of education

How much the tax raised, spent

Teacher salaries

Teacher pay hikes 2002-2013

For more than three decades, Florida’s economic growth has hinged to a large extent on population growth and the ability of new retirees up north being able to sell their homes.

As we all know, population growth pretty much came to a halt during the recent economic “unpleasantness,” otherwise known in the mainstream media as THE GREAT RECESSION.

But Florida may be on the cusp of another surge in new retirees.

“You show me a Dow at 16,000, and I’ll show you a ton of retiring baby boomers,” said Anirban Basu, founder and chief economist of Sage Policy Group Inc., a Baltimore-based economic and policy consulting firm.

As of Wednesday morning, the Dow was at 16,471.

Come on down!

Basu presented his economic outlook for 2014 Wednesday in Sarasota to the Gulf Coast CEO Forum, a group of 80 CEOs from Sarasota and Manatee counties. And it was mostly sanguine — all things considered.

Basu doesn’t expect the U.S. or Florida economies to be booming. About the only place you’ll find any booming is in Minot, N.D., the heart of oil-fracking.

But Florida is doing pretty well as well. As Basu noted, in 2012, Florida ranked second nationally in the growth rate of new jobs, behind North Dakota. And the state’s unemployment rate fell from more than 8% to 6.4%, below the national average.

“Look, I’m just an economist,” Basu said in response to a question about what he is forecasting for 2014. “I say look at the capitalists. Where are they putting their money? Are they putting it into condos in Miami? They are.”

Which is his way of saying Florida’s economy looks good.

Also worth noting from Basu:

• “I don’t see inflation in our near term,” he said. He says the growing middle class in India, with a surging population in the 24 to 40 age groups, will serve as a release valve on rising labor costs and thus help hold down inflation.

• “If there is a QE 4 and 5, that is very bad,” Basu said of the Federal Reserve Bank’s U.S. debt bond-buying programs. “It would mean the recovery has ended.”

• The U.S.’ $17 trillion debt: He’s not worried about it now. “I was taught you read the tape,” he said. “And the bond market is saying (U.S. debt) is not a problem right now. Someday, it will be, but it’s not now.” To illustrate, he said Japan’s national debt is more than 200% of its gross domestic product, and investors are still buying the Japanese government’s bond debt.

• On health care: “It will be more expensive” than it is now, thanks to Obamacare’s subsidized health exchanges.


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