One of my favorite sayings is everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. It describes the idea that people frequently want to receive benefits without paying any costs. This saying also could describe most people’s attitude towards taxes: no one likes to pay them, but everyone wants to have the benefits that only tax revenues can provide.
Locally, tax revenue pays for police and fire protection, emergency paramedic response, teacher salaries, and new schools. There is not a person that would credibly argue that any one of these items is an unnecessary luxury. To the contrary, the quality of these public amenities often determines the safety and livability of a community and also factors heavily into where people choose to live.
We have a golden opportunity in a few weeks to dramatically improve our public schools by choosing to approve a tax that has been proposed by the Charleston County School Board. The one-cent sales tax referendum on this November’s ballot represents the single most important opportunity the average Charleston County voter will have to support our public schools over the next few years.
The tax will raise an estimated $450 million for the construction of 17 state-of-the-art schools across the district, including the replacement of four downtown schools deemed seismically unsafe. If the referendum fails to pass, then a property tax will be levied to replace the four downtown schools.
Given the importance of the referendum, and what it potentially means for the children of Charleston County, it is amazing that the sales tax has not received more attention than it has or that there has not been a bigger effort to educate the public. This is, in part, because a compromise had to be reached on the appropriate amount for the tax.
To its credit, the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the referendum, as have the mayors of Charleston, North Charleston, and Mt. Pleasant. Many other local leaders have lent their support to the effort, and a website, Yes4Schools.com, answers some of the most frequently asked questions about the tax.
But “tax” remains a bad word in South Carolina, and any proposed tax must have well-defined benefits before the public is willing to accept it. It took a monumental effort to raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes even though South Carolina had the lowest cigarette tax in the nation and the tax had not been raised in more than 30 years. This was in spite of the fact that the proposed revenues were to help pay for the very deserving goals such as healthcare for the state’s poor, cancer research, and smoking prevention programs.
Similarly, it took two tries on the ballot before Charleston voters approved its most recent half-cent sales tax referendum that has universally succeeded in preserving Charleston County green space and adding to our widely acclaimed county park system.
Sanders-Clyde Elementary stands as a shining example of a dilapidated school that was transformed due to the rebuilding that will be possible if the one-cent sales tax passes.
True, new buildings alone do not improve literacy or graduation rates, but studies have shown that students in poor facilities had achievement rates that were 6 percent below schools in fair condition and 11 percent below schools in excellent condition. The one-cent sales tax would only be in effect for six years or until the capital improvements are completed, a small price to pay for the generational benefits that would result.
Every child deserves the best learning environment possible, and we owe it to our children to give them access to the best facilities possible. Hopefully, on Nov. 2, Charleston voters will agree.