Tax Increases are Necessary

Neely Young

Neely Young

Raising taxes for our schools is perceived to be the battle cry for a politician looking for certain defeat in the next election. But is it?





Across the nation it has been proven that voters will go along with a tax increase if they can be convinced it is necessary for their well-being and for the good of the state. What could be more important than restoring the $750 million in funds that have been cut from Georgia's education system?





Republicans and Democrats, governors and legislators who are in control of state governments in America have raised taxes over the past few years. General public support has held up in the business community, and polls show little erosion among the public.





A handful of Republican governors including Colorado's Bill Owens, Alabama's Bob Riley, Idaho's Dick Kempthorne, Ohio's Bob Taft and others have all supported tax increases from their legislatures. Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, and the Republican controlled state legislature recently passed a $1.7 billion tax increase, and citizen opposition was minimal.





What better example of fiscal courage could be found than Mayor Shirley Franklin, who raised taxes in Atlanta to fix the city's ailing infrastructure, and faces no strong opposition in the coming election.





The present $750 million cut in Georgia's education budget should have wrung out all the fat in the system. We are now cutting into bone and marrow. There is a strong argument for restoring education dollars. Our citizenry can be convinced by the numbers.





A recent article in USA Today projects that by the year 2015, 45 percent of the nation's residents will live along the coast from North Carolina to Texas. Georgia will continue to grow. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, our state will move from the 10th largest to the eighth largest. Georgia's population will increase from more than 8 million today to almost 10 million in 2015, about a 21 percent increase.





The increase for K-12 is hard to pin down, but enrollment could increase by 319,000 new students in 2015. It costs $7,114 per child to educate each K-12 student. One projection says that 200,000 new students will be enrolled at the college level - at a somewhat lower cost per individual student.





Georgia's population growth will not be uniform. The growth around cities, including Columbus, Augusta, Atlanta, Savannah and Valdosta, will be sizable, between 15 and 44 percent. Population growth will continue in northeast and northwest Georgia and on the Georgia coast. These communities will bear the brunt of the cost increase. Many rural counties will see limited population increases, and a few may lose population.

The Census Bureau predicts growth will be evenly split between in-migration (49 percent) and natural population growth (51 percent). Some growth will come from retirees called half-backs, those who move from northern states to Florida, then move halfway back to Georgia, because of Florida's heat, hurricanes or high sales taxes. Yet the half -backs are a small percentage of projected growth, and will not have much impact on student growth rate.





Growth isn't all bad. Migration has continued to add to our highly educated population. While Georgia has a dismal high school dropout rate, 60 percent of recent high school graduates are enrolled in college, placing us 16th in the nation. Twenty-four percent of Georgia adults hold a bachelor's degree or higher, which puts Georgia at 22nd nationally.





Along with student population growth, we will also experience growth in our prison system. Eighty percent of those incarcerated do not have high school degrees. We have noted the large increase in student high school population predicted for our state. In Georgia, 50 percent drop out before graduation, and receive no high school diploma. If the trend holds, our prison population could also increase 21 percent over the next 10 years. The cost could be staggering.





Population growth is but one argument for restoring school funding. Taxes could be raised $750 million by increasing sales taxes by one percent, or taking off the food exemption on our present tax system. Citizens can be convinced of the need. It will only take a little courage and common sense from our elected officials.





Neely Young is the editor in chief and publisher of Georgia Trend.



Georgia's population growth will not be uniform. The growth around cities, including Columbus, Augusta, Atlanta, Savannah and Valdosta, will be sizable, between 15 and 44 percent. Population growth will continue in northeast and northwest Georgia and on the Georgia coast. These communities will bear the brunt of the cost increase. Many rural counties will see limited population increases, and a few may lose population.

The Census Bureau predicts growth will be evenly split between in-migration (49 percent) and natural population growth (51 percent). Some growth will come from retirees called half-backs, those who move from northern states to Florida, then move halfway back to Georgia, because of Florida's heat, hurricanes or high sales taxes. Yet the half -backs are a small percentage of projected growth, and will not have much impact on student growth rate.





Growth isn't all bad. Migration has continued to add to our highly educated population. While Georgia has a dismal high school dropout rate, 60 percent of recent high school graduates are enrolled in college, placing us 16th in the nation. Twenty-four percent of Georgia adults hold a bachelor's degree or higher, which puts Georgia at 22nd nationally.





Along with student population growth, we will also experience growth in our prison system. Eighty percent of those incarcerated do not have high school degrees. We have noted the large increase in student high school population predicted for our state. In Georgia, 50 percent drop out before graduation, and receive no high school diploma. If the trend holds, our prison population could also increase 21 percent over the next 10 years. The cost could be staggering.





Population growth is but one argument for restoring school funding. Taxes could be raised $750 million by increasing sales taxes by one percent, or taking off the food exemption on our present tax system. Citizens can be convinced of the need. It will only take a little courage and common sense from our elected officials.





Neely Young is the editor in chief and publisher of Georgia Trend.



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