A vocal group of education supporters in Worcester County had a clear message for the commissioners at this week’s annual budget hearing — raise taxes to help local schools.
Although the overall budget pictures for Worcester and Wicomico counties are blurry at the moment, thanks to the General Assembly’s “doomsday” budget, what is known is taxes are going up in both jurisdictions. More will be known by mid-month after state legislators iron out all the unresolved fiscal issues left on the table after last month’s bizarre final days.
In Wicomico, an increase in the income tax rate has already been approved and it’s nearly a certainty a property tax rate hike will be necessary as well, although how much is unclear.
In Worcester, a tax rate increase of some sort is imminent, but it’s unknown what will be going up and by how much. An increase of 8 cents appears to have a majority of commissioners’ support, but what state legislators decide this month and the outcome of 44 commercial properties’ assessment appeals in Ocean City will influence overall revenue figures as well.
The message from public school advocates on Tuesday was it’s okay to pass a tax increase so long as education is the main beneficiary of the new revenue. Some speakers on fixed incomes said not so fast.
Much of the support for a tax increase has to do with getting teachers their first raise in four years. That’s reasonable, but residents need to understand it’s not just the teachers who will get a raise. It’s all the county employees and that will represent at least a penny on the tax rate.
It’s impractical to say raise taxes and simply give all the new revenue to education. That’s not going to happen, but education will likely get about two-thirds of the new money, based on current county spending allocation models.
It’s been known for about a year that 2012 would see the Worcester County tax rate increased. It’s in the middle of the commissioner terms and recent history shows that’s when tax increases are most easily digestible without political ramifications. The idea is voters will not recall the hikes come November of 2014.
Nonetheless, the argument to increase taxes for education is not sound. If taxes are increased, there has to be more than just the public school argument made. It has to be made infrastructure, public safety and health as much as it does education.
The county is going to increase taxes but the logic that all the new money that comes with it should go to education is the wrong approach and that ideology needs to be reconsidered before being advanced again.