Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Parting Thought on School Referenda

Last night on WXNT, radio host extraordinaire Abdul Hakim-Shabazz, Marion County Libertarian Party Chair Tim Maguire, and I read the tea leaves on the Wishard and school ballot referenda and dissected in every conceivable way what it all means. Are referenda's a good way to govern? Is the property tax outrage of 2007 gone? Do property tax initiatives fail in low turnout years? How much does organization and money help proponents?

All fair questions, but during the discussion last night I mistakenly stated that the Superintendent of Franklin Township Schools had threatened to take away bus transportation if the referendum failed. I confused him with the Superintendent of Beech Grove, and I wanted to apologize for my error.

But now it makes more sense why Beech Grove's referendum passed and Franklin's didn't. Abdul offered that there are fewer non-parents in Beech Grove. I agree. But I am adamant that it's always easier to stomach an increase if you have the impression of being able to"earmark" it or "control" it as a voter. We don't cut blank checks to government, but we will cut one for a good cause, which is also why Wishard won with close to eighty-four percent approval. (Kudos to Matt Gutwein and the proponents of Wishard. They ran such an impressive campaign that they demolished my prediction of 74% approval).

Also, while we all know objectively that dollars are fungible goods that can be moved in a budget from line A to line B with quickness, it's easiest to sell a tax increase if people can do a cost-benefit analysis of the per day benefit versus the per day cost. This is why Sally Struthers tells you that you can feed an entire village for $.42 cents per day. If she told you to send $150, you wouldn't do it as readily.

In Beech Grove, the increase would be $117 per $100,000 of assessed value. For that average person, that's less than $.50 per day for to and from transportation to school. What parent wouldn't pay this instead of buying the gas and having to rejigger their schedules?

But another thing that matters is the groundshaking that occurs from events predating the referenda. I've had colleague after colleague in Franklin tell me they are getting absolutely socked. That's not a hospitable climate for any referendum for any cause. As I said last night, if you have a history of budget-busting items like "the palace" in Franklin (as critics term the high school), you shouldn't expect anybody to give you the benefit of the doubt when you really are in a pinch.

Superintendents of Indiana, take heed. You can't cry wolf and expect not to get devoured if you haven't been a good shepherd over the taxpayers' dollars.


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