Local governments are weakening in their resolve not to raise taxes. The Manatee County School Board has joined the city of Sarasota in a tax rate hike for next year, and by the same 3-2 vote.
The pressure will keep mounting next year as property values will either be flat or decline again. Too often, the School Board and cities and counties tend to look at their budgets, employee-count and falling revenues and give in to the temptation to raise the rates to cover all or part of the difference.
The School Board voted last week to raise the overall millage rate 4.9% to 7.960 mills. One mill equals $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The board also approved a $598 million budget during the same meeting.
A persistent problem is that local governments do not often enough weigh rightly the fact that the taxes they are raising are on people who are also in bad financial straits, thereby making it worse. Residents in Manatee County are struggling with high unemployment, flat or downward pressure on wages, upside-down mortgages, high gas costs and increasing food and health care costs. In fact, many of the same cost factors the School Board would cite as part of the need for increasing taxes are affecting those who will pay more in taxes.
It is wrong to balance local government budgets on the backs of many people who are already on the brink of insolvency.
There is an increasing factor driving this: the size and strength of government unions, which are focused on protecting their union members. (Of course union size is a direct result of government’s size.)
This was on display when the School Board voted to approve the rate increase. Four people spoke against the tax hike and five spoke in favor. But of the five in favor, at least one was a school district employee and one was the president of the teachers union.
Manatee Education Association President Pat Barber urged the School Board to approve the millage increase but not the budget cuts. She said the budget should not be cut anymore and that the $14 million in reductions was too much.
As union president looking out for her union members, she does not care about taxpayers. It is not her job to care. But it is the job of the School Board. School Board members Julie Aranibar and Karen Carpenter understand this and voted against the tax increase. The other board members need to understand it next year, because there is no sign things are going to be better for taxpayers.
+ But county gets it right
The Manatee County Commission kept property tax rates the same. Commissioners saw the condition of county taxpayers and that other local governments — such as the School Board — were raising taxes and voted not to even while giving the sheriff 10 more officers.
Kudos to the commission unanimously seeing that their budget problems cannot be foisted onto struggling taxpayers.