I’ve been to many governmental entity meetings over the years, so I can’t say that the Harris County Department of Education tax increase hearing that I attended yesterday was the worst. But it does rank somewhere in the bottom 100 or so. Good grief, these people have the power, yes POWER, to raise your taxes, take money out of your pocket, and they sat there and argued in public without seeming to know what they were talking about. No wonder citizens don’t bother to attend these things.
Let’s cut to the chase: the board of the Harris County Department of Education wants to raise your taxes by…well, there is a lot of argument about that but here is a simple breakdown based upon two of the Harris County Department of Education’s own worksheets: the 2012 Effective Tax Rate Worksheet and the 2012 Rollback Tax Rate Worksheet.
There you go: a MINIMUM of 8%. At the meeting itself, they said 8.9% but there are so many numbers floating around, and ways to distort them, that I think it best I stick to what they have published. Speaking of published, you’ll note that they published a notice saying that they were going to increase “total tax revenues” by 5.7%. How do they arrive at this number? By law, of course. From the “Truth in Taxation” (now there is a misnomer) FAQ:
If a governing body — other than a school district, small taxing unit or special water district — proposes to adopt a tax rate that exceeds the lower of the unit’s effective or rollback rate, it must publish a quarter-page notice in a local newspaper to announce two public hearings.
See, they don’t use the actual rate from last year, they use the rate they calculated in that worksheet I linked to above. So they can call it 5.7% but it is in fact 6.3% versus last year. And note from my little worksheet that the increase doesn’t include the 1.62% increase due to increased property values, which could be appraisal creep or new construction or a combination of both.
But heck, who cares, right? No, seriously, who cares? Two members on that board sure don’t. One is a Democrat, so you sort of expect that attitude, but the other is a guy that I have supported and defended in the past. Hey, fool me a hundred times but on the 101st, I figure it out! First, the Democrat, Debra Kerner. Ms. Kerner flat out stated “I don’t care about the 8.9%!” Earlier, she had complained that they were wasting time talking about such an insignificant increase when you look at it in terms of dollars per household or percentage of their total budget, because taxes only constitute 20% of the total budget anyway. Hey, at least she’s honest. Who cares about a million here or a million there when you can go get more federal grant money!
Not to be outdone, Republican Roy Morales brought some props to show just how ridiculous it is to worry about such a small increase! He held up a package of what looked like cheese crackers and said, “Look! This is all we are talking about!” And then for some reason, he held up another pack and muttered something about how we could have two.
Wow. If Republicans care so little about tax increases, we are doomed. At least the good Lt. Col. (Ret.) eats whole grain cheese crackers.
Fortunately, not all of the Republicans on the board are like Lt. Col. (Ret.) Morales. Marvin Morris and Mike Wolfe put up a good fight. Marvin stated that he doesn’t see how the board can raise taxes 6.3% when the economy is only growing at 1.5%. Mike then made the point that the actual increase was closer to 9%, for which he was attacked by Kerner and Morales. Even Board President Angie Chesnut tried to argue with Mike, thinking that he was referring to the tax rate and insisting that the increase was only 6.3%. Mike was eventually vindicated, when the budget director did a calculation on screen and the total tax burden would be increased by 8.9%. Again, I kept it simple in the chart above, using only the numbers provided from HCDE’s public worksheets. So my 8% is low and conservative but bear in mind that the members themselves disclosed that taxes will be increased by 8.9% if they pass their increase.
And frankly, I think that they are going to pass it. Board members Evans and Henley rarely attend meetings because of personal issues, so we are most likely looking at a repeat of the initial vote, in which Chesnut joined Morales and Kerner as Yeas, with Morris and Wolfe as Nays. There is a bit of hope in that Chesnut asked for more budget documents to review. I’ll tell you this much – if they do pass this ridiculous increase, the calls to eliminate the Harris County Department of Education will grow louder and have more force behind them.
Lastly, why do I say this is a “ridiculous” increase? I mean, apart from the fact that it will raise taxes between 8-9%? Because the stated reason for the increase was that they need the money for a new startup business called the “Cloud Project”. You read that correctly. In addition to the other businesses that they run, they think there is a market for a new cloud computing service. Yep, they think they can do it better than Amazon or HP or IBM or anyone else. There is scant mention of this project on their website, just three documents have references to it. The September Dollars and Cents newsletter lists it once, a one million dollar budget line. And the FY 2012-13 BUDGET AMENDMENT REPORT – GENERAL FUNDS 100-199 lists the same one million dollars budget line. The 2013 Budget Book uses the term “cloud” 8 times, and details the expected expenditures:
Do you think that government agencies should be in the profit business? Using your money for seed capital?
I certainly don’t.
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