In addressing activists at American for Prosperity Foundation’s recent Defending the American Dream Summit, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs said, “No government wants you to know what they are spending. Be ruthless about getting information.” The mechanics of school district elections discussed in an earlier article are emerging as early voting for the Temple ISD’s Sept. 21 tax ratification election (TRE) gets underway and voters’ sources for reliable information seems in short supply.
Tax ratification elections (TREs) are growing in popularity as taxing entities seek new ways to secure additional public funds. Bond elections, another revenue generating vehicle, are finding more opposition than perhaps a few years ago. With Temple ISD already having tapped residents for an advertised $55 million bond package in May 2011, a package that actually generated closer to $90 million of new local debt as an additional $30+ million of interest was not disclosed by school district officials, funding streams like TREs are finding new appeal.
Having compiled a great Texas, It’s Your Money four-part series that details information Texans need to make informed decisions and hold their government officials accountable, Combs and her staff have likely had their own experiences in garnering government debt and spending data from publicly-funded entities.
Combs also advised the group to be respectful and professional when engaging public officials. “Don’t let anyone paint you as the local nut,” she warned.
Though not published until later in the month, Understanding the mechanics of Texas school district elections was written in mid-August. Election predictions made then are now coming into view offering discerning voters a better perspective of how public funds are used.
The article described early voting branch locations set up at school campuses as a taxpayer-funded approach ISDs now use to maximize ballot casting opportunities.
With the May 2011 TISD bond election, district officials scheduled voting opportunities at 11 campuses creating an additional 19.5 early voting hours. In doing so, officials could ensure increased voter access for district employees as well as for parents and friends attending end-of-school events seemingly coordinated with the branch location schedule.
A similar schedule appears planned for the TRE as TISD students return back to school and 13 campuses host early voting sessions generating a total of 58.5 additional early voting hours.
Signage at Bonham Middle School currently advertises exactly such an event.
Also predicted was the seemingly always-present reminder that voters age 65 and older with a school district tax freeze can vote for their friends, families and neighbors to absorb the tax increase without themselves paying additional school taxes.
Another tactic routinely seen is justifying the increase in its lowest possible terms. This round, TISD says it’s proposing a 5.95 percent tax increase that will raise taxes for maintenance and operations on a $100,000 home by approximately $80.
Indeed that calculation is somewhat true, however a recent Temple Daily Telegram article describing a proposed city of Temple tax increase noted the average taxable value of a Temple residence homestead last year was $96,066 and that same residence this year is valued at $97,958. To that point, if TISD’s $100,000 home is now valued at $102,000, the proposed TISD tax rate ($1.36 per $100 valuation opposed to the previous $1.28) will cost an additional $107 rather than the advertised $80.
Nonetheless, this example and avoidance of the tax increase for those 65 and older is predictably promoted in a pro-TRE mailer.
Government transparency and accountability are always big topics at events like the Defending the American Dream Summit. AFP-Texas State Director Peggy Venable often asks if you can’t trust officials to provide good information, how can you trust them to responsibly spend your money?
Having already asked Temple ISD tax ratification election: champagne tastes on a beer budget?, learning the realities of local government debt and spending as Temple, Belton exemplify local government spending issues, actions seen statewide seems a next logical step.
As suggested before, want to do something for the children? Educate yourself.