AJC Opinion: Hiking the gas tax would put Georgia schools on road to better days

Steve J. Smith is the superintendent of  Wilcox County Schools.

By Steve J. Smith

I am excited that state leaders are considering a hike in the gas tax.

Naturally, I have an ulterior motive — any additional revenues generated by such a hike could relieve some pressure on the general fund, which should bode well for public education.

We appreciate what the governor and Legislature did this past session in reducing the austerity cuts, and we are hopeful an improving economy will provide the revenues needed for additional reductions.

I have attached a graph depicting 12-month revenues since June 2007. Each data point represents that month’s revenues and the previous eleven months for a true annual revenue total. The best news from the data is the state is finally above the $18 billion mark, not seen since March 2008.

revenuephoto

Interestingly, the austerity for that fiscal year (FY08) amounted to just under $143 million, compared to our current austerity of just under $747 million.

While we would love to see austerity reduced to FY08 levels, I can assure you all public school systems in the state will put to good use any additional funding we can get.

While most of us used the current year’s reduction to return to a 180-day school year (or its equivalent; we remain on a 4-day school week), most of us who have done so are dipping into reserves this year.

Fortunately, a few of us still have reserves, although many of my colleagues around the state do not.

Back to the gas tax. For years I have asked that the state consider a 10-cent-per-gallon increase in the gas tax and provide a state tax credit for full-time Georgia residents for the increase.

Remember the old state sales tax schedule that we used to determine our credit on our state individual income tax return? I envision something very similar, along with a business credit, too.

The best news regarding the increase is that most of it would be borne by visitors traveling through Georgia. Very few vehicles traveling down I-75 to Disney World can avoid one stop to refuel. The cost to administer the credit would be minimal compared to the revenues generated.

Reader Comments 0

33 comments
Antagonist
Antagonist

I do not trust this fuel tax for education. All of the lottery money was supposed to go into education. They never told us they would cut the money they had usually  been putting in the budget from the bottom as they were putting the lottery money in on top. Education loses again or still as the case usually is. So, no, I don't trust this.

DekalbDad
DekalbDad

Let me start by saying I am a black male (no, I have never been in prison) who is married to a school teacher. I voted for Carter and Nunn and I am a patient man so I know one day we will be a blue state. Here is my take on Dr. Smith’s article:

1) We were too stupid to pass the T-SPLOST so something must be done to address our infrastructure.

2) An increase in the gas tax or sales tax on gas is coming whether we like it or not so the poor will get screwed anyway.

3) This plan is a great option for the middle class since those of us who actually pay taxes will get relief from the tax increase. I am skeptical that my family would get all its money back, but again I refer to 2 above.

4) Dr. Smith’s plan in no way says this tax would be used for education. He says taking pressure off the general fund where education dollars are spent MIGHT help free up some money for education.

5) I don’t know Dr. Smith, but I have read about him in Aspire, the alumni magazine for Albany State University (he’s white, by the way). He is one of only 2-3 superintendents with an MBA and business experience. He took over a school system nearing bankruptcy and made it successful financially. He is fighting generational poverty down there. He and his high school principal had the guts to forfeit a state playoff game in basketball because most of the players were involved in a fight the day before the game. I hear he commutes 2 hours a day to get to his school system and his students, faculty and parents have great respect for him. From what I do know I think he could run any school system in this state and his talent is wasted on a little system down there in south Georgia.

6) As for combining rural districts most of these students are already on a bus for more than one hour to get to school. Combining districts would double and triple that. Would you want your kid on a bus 4-6 hours a day? My wife tells me most of those rural districts have much more efficient central offices because everybody does multiple jobs and they don’t have all the middle managers the big systems have.

7) For all you education bashers, show me another profession where workers go home from their jobs and spend another 2 hours per night working for no additional pay. Most teachers like my wife get to school early to help students or stay after school to tutor. She also spends at least $500 a year on supplies and clothes for her students. How many of you buy office supplies for your employer? How many of you actually work for a living? My wife and her fellow teachers have not had a raise in seven years, not even a cost of living increase. The thanks they get is more furlough days and criticism from people who would not last one day in a classroom. We chose to send our kids to public school because we want to be part of the solution. Instead of attacking people who are trying to make a difference, why don’t you get off your lazy, condescending butts and help?

This is my first comment on here but I have reached my limit on patience with ignorant people.

Tcope
Tcope

We need to cut bureaucratic overhead by merging the school systems of rural counties. I am sure there are tons of administrators in these sparsely populated counties whose jobs could be eliminated by merging small systems.

Antagonist
Antagonist

@Tcope  No. Absolutely not. Rural county schools have been hit hard enough. These children are on the bus for too long and have lost their neighborhoods. There are other ways to educate them without completely disrupting all of their life. We can do without so many administrators, I totally agree. We certainly can do without huge classes but we can effectively teach them! I am so tired of being treated as the "other Georgia" like some third world country by the GDOE! There is long distance learning and other techniques to be put in place but we do not need to bus our children any further. Leaving in the dark and arriving home in the dark, trying to have extra-curricular activities miles from home, and attempting to maintain parental contact are nightmares as it is. If we consolidate anymore, there will certainly be more insurmountable problems. No more consolidation.

SteveN Campbell
SteveN Campbell

GDOT wants taxes on gas to be raised so it can fund the so-called "Project wish list," well when I was a kid I didn't always get everything on my list. The public wants potholes filled, bridges and roads maintained and not glamorous projects that lawmakers can pose in front of cameras and boast about how they helped make it happen. A "Wish list" is just that, hard working, struggling families shouldn't be subjected to a tax increase just when gas prices are falling. Instead of dreaming up expensive projects, GDOT should be figuring out a plan to prevent school children and commuters from getting stuck on the roads during the next winter storm. So unless they are going to drop a few dollars into preventing kids getting stuck the snow, then Georgia absolutely needs to live within its means just like the rest of us. 


Please tell State Representatives to vote "NO" on increasing the tax on gasoline in Georgia. https://www.facebook.com/NoNewGAGasTax

concernedoldtimer
concernedoldtimer

Money does not improve schools.....it comes from community attitudes...and expectations...

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Georgia already has one of the highest fuel taxes in the South.  Florida does not have a state income tax, so that skews those number somewhat (plus, they have a legitimate tourist base to bleed dry)

http://www.exxonmobilperspectives.com/2014/02/07/this-gasoline-tax-map-explains-a-lot/?utm_source=Outbrain&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Perspectives_-_Full_Site

Steve Smith, EVERYTHING depends on energy.  Whether it be electricity, natural gas, or transportation fuels, it all impacts your pocketbook. I agree with all the other posters who correctly stated that the GOVERNMENT needs to live within it's means - and that includes the schools.

Here's an idea - how about abolishing the years of service x degree pay scale?  Let's start paying market prices for those teaching positions.  Yes, some would go up such as math and science, but at least we wouldn't have to pay premium salaries for PE teachers with diploma mill "doctorates".

ByteMe
ByteMe

@Lee_CPA2 So you wanna be like Alabama and Mississippi, huh?  Woo-hoo!  Race to the bottom of the barrel!

Falcaints
Falcaints

I teach in Bartow County and we are on our 5th year of furloughs, with no end in sight.  The "extra" money Deal put in his "reelection" budget didn't help us. 

Astropig
Astropig

@Falcaints 

" The "extra" money Deal put in his "reelection" budget didn't help us. "


The state has to live within its means. There is no printing press to create money. Why does that register on every group but educrats?

atln8tiv
atln8tiv

"...which should bode well for public education."  Should doesn't mean it will. From my vantage point, it appears there's plenty of money in education; it's just not being spent wisely, or ethically. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Steve, the money would NEVER be used to help public education, even indirectly.

An American Patriot
An American Patriot

Whatcha wanna bet me that Steve J. Smith is not a democrat? Folks, the people of Georgia don't need any more taxes; however, we do need more responsible parents and more discipline in our schools and for gosh sakes, tighten up on the teaching standards and fire those who aren't competent. State control of our schools will accomplish this.

Starik
Starik

@An American Patriot We just elected a School Superintendent from Irwin County, on the basis of his Irwin County Values. How, exactly, is State control (what little there is) going to help?

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

And how is this guy a Superintendent?   I hate to be so condescending, but aren't Superintendents supposed to be well educated and understand basic economic principles like distribution of wealth? Just shocked.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

Absolutely terrible idea. Don't go stealing from Peter to pay Paul.   Gas prices are already low and they are an essential service for all consumers regardless of income.   Hiking the gas tax will inflict serious harm on the middle and lower class.


If southern states would pay higher property taxes the way that they do in the north, then schools might find a bigger pot of dollars.  I know that's a very unpopular solution in the Jeffersonian south.   While I know that more $ won't solve education's woes, it is a fact that folks down here don't like to pay taxes.   But taxes pay for services, including public education.  Taxing income or property values are fair taxes.  In a democracy, each taxpayer pays their fair share.  If you make more, you should be taxed more.   


So Mr. Smith, while your intentions may be noble, it would be foolhardy to raise sales taxes or taxes on basic goods like gas which may help schools, but punish and destroy the lives of many of your students, unless your school serves only the wealthy which I doubt is true.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

Mo Money, that's the solution!!!  Mo Money!!


Dude, the voters are laughing AT you - not with you.  The curtain is up on the "Mo Money" charade.  And using gas tax to somehow provide money for schools?  Seriously?  And you wonder why us voters have "doubts" about the ability of our eduacracy to think straight enough to fix the mess our schools are in?  



MD3
MD3

@dcdcdc So, when he points out the fact that revenues have rebounded to '08 levels, but the cut this year is $747M compared to $143M in '08, he is somehow out of line? I guess he should just keep his mouth shut other than to say "Thank you sir, may I have another"??

Mirva
Mirva

@dcdcdc We have been slowly starving our schools of money since '08.  We are not where we need or want to be. The books (what there are of them) are in tatters, the desks are broken, the roof leaks, students have classes in cold trailers (no matter what cute name we give them), the broadband is out dated and over subscribed, the computers are old and overused, classrooms are stuffed with students, the paint is peeling off the walls, the PE equipment is old, and the art supplies are few and far in between. We ask parents to donate tissues and copy paper because there isn't any.   And I work in good school in a good (wealthy) district.  The parents are involved, most kids come from two parents homes, discipline is as good as it can be and the standards are high. Yes, we need more money.  We have scrimped, and patched and saved and reused and done without.  It's not a charade. 

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

@Mirva @dcdcdc Yeah, schools were supposed to be immune to any reductions, even though the state revenue dipped dramatically.  Right.....somehow there must be a pot of magic money somewhere.  


Meanwhile, back in the real world, folks make budgeting decisions all the time.  And it starts (always!) with "how much money do I expect to receive".  Not "how much money do I magically want to spend".  


What else do you think should have been slashed further, in order to continue the "magical school funding" nirvana that you propose?

ByteMe
ByteMe

 The best news regarding the increase is that most of it would be borne by visitors traveling through Georgia. Very few vehicles traveling down I-75 to Disney World can avoid one stop to refuel.

Well, no, the increase would be borne by everyone.  If you want to target just refueling pass-thru traffic, make it only on gas stations within 5 miles of an interstate.  The credit -- if one ever comes to pass -- would affect everyone, but I'll bet they limit it to those who are paying an income tax, thereby making it more painful for poor people (who pay all kinds of state taxes, just not so much income taxes).

Astropig
Astropig

@ByteMe 

This would be a massive tax hike on the poor.

The federal Highway Administration (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ohim/onh00/onh2p11.htm) says that Georgia drivers average14,676 miles per year.The average MPG is 17.41.That means we burn right at 843 gallons of dino juice per annum.That means $84.30 from each driver so that Georgia schools can hire more assistant principals and administrative deadwood.For a family of four living at the poverty level,with two adult drivers, that's an electric bill,several water bills,groceries,two tanks of gas,etc...Just so that we can hire and retain more of the kind of people on trial right now in an Atlanta court room for cheating on tests.


The poor can't really afford any more "help" like this.

class80olddog
class80olddog

I agree with Astropig - gas tax should be used for roads and only roads.  That being said , can I say it again: MONEY IS NOT THE CAUSE OF POOR EDUCATION!!!!!  Try addressing Attendance, discipline, and social promotion first.

EdUktr
EdUktr

Instead, how about a generous tax credit for those parents sending their children to private schools?

Astropig
Astropig

@EdUktr  Do you mind if I call this the "Mickey Mouse Tax"?

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady @Astropig @EdUktr 

It's been interesting to watch human behavior the last couple of months.The price of gas (I'm sure you have noticed) has gone down pretty significantly.I have a couple of friends in the restaurant business.They report that their business is up quite a bit because (they surmise) people have more money in their pockets because a basic commodity (gasoline) has gone down in price.They're spending that money in the real economy instead of sending it out of the country to the middle east.It's like a tax cut for working people,and we are seeing the benefits that it provides to other sectors of the economy. This proposal would have the opposite effect.


Fuel taxes should be spent on roads,bridges and other transportation infrastructure.Those improvements benefit every one.

Astropig
Astropig

Gas taxes should be used for roads.Period. 

Here's another "free lunch"  proposal that lets local county commissions and school boards avoid the hard choices that they need to make,which has led to the difficulty that some systems find themselves in.Raising the gasoline tax and giving a credit is just the kind of shell game that political hustlers like to trot out when they are out of power and need mo' money to fund their schemes.The idea that there is some pain free way to fund education at a level that keeps the educrats happy is nonsense.If the shoe were on the other foot (politicians trying to get property tax money to fix bridges), there would be an awful outcry. The fact is, highway trust funds were never meant to fund local schools.That is the responsibility of local governments.

There are many counties in Georgia that are NOT along an "Interstate To Disney" and would contribute almost no incremental revenue to this fantasy.Thus (again with the shell game),there would be a giant transfer of money from the people that collect it to people that have nothing at all to do with its collection.


Please put this proposal back in the oven-It's not even half baked.



DekalbInsideOut
DekalbInsideOut

I find it hard to believe anybody that makes claims like this:

"I can assure you all public school systems in the state will put to good use any additional funding we can get."

I find it especially difficult to take seriously a superintendent that gets over $10K per student and only graduated 52 of his 82 students last year.

Mirva
Mirva

@DekalbInsideOut What would be the magic number to graduate?  If the county graduated 100% of the students, you would cry grade inflation and social promotion.  If they graduated 90% of the students, you would say he is doing fine with what he already has.  The fact is, 30 kids did not graduate from a very poor and rural county.  Maybe with a bit more money, they could offer the services the kids so desperately need and graduate more of them.