Last night was back-to-school night at my daughter’s new high school. I was deeply impressed. The facility is beautiful; the classrooms are clean, bright and well-maintained; the teachers are engaging; the test scores are over-the-top; and the expensive extras (fancy computers, lab equipment, etc.) are all in place. My daughter loves her new school. All the other kids I know who attend the school, or have attended the school, love it too.
Throughout the evening, administrator after administrator, teacher after teacher, and parent volunteer after parent volunteer drummed into us a single message: This November, Vote Yes on B, to renew the school district’s parcel tax:
A Tamalpais Union High School District parcel tax, Measure B ballot question is on the November 8, 2011 ballot for voters in the Tamalpais Union High School District in Marin County.
The measure, if it is approved, will renew the district’s existing parcel tax of $238.78 and increase it to $245.94 starting in July 2012, with a 3% annual increase every year thereafter for 10 years.
The existing parcel tax was first approved in 1989. It was renewed in 1997 and 2004. The tax generates approximately $8.5 million a year for the school district, or about 16% of the district’s annual school budget of $52 million.
You all know how much I hate taxes and big government. But you know what? I’m going to vote yes on Measure B, because it is a perfect example of the way in which government should work.
When I vote Yes on B, I will get a direct and immediate benefit from my vote: My child’s school will continue to function at its same incredibly high level.
Of course, if only current parents vote “yes,” the tax measure, which requires a 2/3 supermajority vote to pass will go nowhere fast. There are others who should be interested too, though. People whose children are rising up through the school district should vote yes, as I did back in 2004. People whose children benefited in the past from the school district, and have since moved on, should be inclined to vote yes as a gift to up and coming generations. And people who have no children, or who feel no gratitude to a district that served their children well, should also vote yes, because Marin County’s high quality schools add tens of thousands of dollars to the value of their homes. It’s not just the temperate climate that makes home prices ridiculous here — it’s the public schools.
My money, my benefit. A vote Measure B is also the voters’ chance to advance their community values. Another community might put a premium on sports facilities or on sewage upgrades or on enticing factories into town. What’s important is the connection between the voter and the expenditure. We express our values, and we get to see immediately whether our government is doing the work it should to implement our values vote.
This is all quite different from federal government taxation. Somewhere in a small town in Georgia, someone is paying taxes to fund a terrible, wasteful, green energy initiative in California that is doomed to failure. There’s no benefit to the Georgia voter, who had no say in the matter anyway. And more importantly, there’s no benefit to anyone. This was a political boondoggle of the type that inevitably happens when the federal government exceeds its mandate (to maintain a coherent country with good transportation and strong national security) and begins to meddle in the marketplace and in local matters. Local government has a harder time getting away with those shenanigans, because people get to see the money being spent.
I assume that some people at this point will argue that I’m spoiled, because I live in a rich community. Huge federal and state governments need to be there, they would say, to ensure that poor people have good schools too. After all, the taxpayers in Detroit cannot afford to do what the taxpayers in Marin can do. I’ve got a few counter arguments, though: First, all of the federal money pouring into Detroit doesn’t seem to be making a difference. Not only does Detroit lack the bells and whistles that characterize my fancy Marin public school, it’s a failed school system.
Second, as the recession has shown, the fact that we have fewer rich people does not mean we have fewer poor people. Leftist thinkers subscribe to the belief that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” They therefore assume that the opposite must be true: “If the rich get poorer, the poor get richer.” After all, the rich have “stolen” money from the system. What the current recession proves is that, in America, which is still a semi-capitalist marketplace, when the rich get poorer, so do the poor. Take money out of the marketplace and no one has it. The federal government, by regularly increasing taxes so that Joe Shmo in Georgia provides ever more support to failed federally-funded school districts in Detroit and Chicago and Los Angeles, simply sucks wealth out of the economy. With no money, it’s impossible for people to make their own choices about school district funding (science lab or football field?). It’s even worse when you consider that poor Joe Shmo is also funding Yale, which has a $16 billion portfolio.
Third, as always, there’s a moral component. If the federal government steps in, local people check out. Schools should be intensely personal but, if people have no skin in the game, they have no incentive to care. Instead of being places of education, schools become giant babysitting facilities. There’s no pride, no commitment, no ownership.
I have a hard time imagining myself ever supporting a federal tax. I’d like to see less federal spending on just about every federal program but for the military. As it’s engaged in two hot wars and myriad cold wars, it deserves maximum support. I strongly belief that, if our federal taxes go down, we’ll have more money to make decisions about our own communities and fund them as the local majority believes they ought to be funded.