Liberty County voters on Tuesday did our local education system a world of good by continuing the 1-cent Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for five more years.
The sales-tax method is the fairest way to raise money for our schools’ capital-improvement projects. The revenue also will be used in the acquisition of buses, technology, textbooks, digital media and land. The Liberty County Pre-K Center was built using nothing but ESPLOST funds.
Although the measure passed, voter turnout was disappointingly low. So, too, was the attendance at the handful of informative meetings school-system officials held before the election in order to help voters understand the significance of ESPLOST. Only three voters showed up for last Thursday’s session, which the LCSS hosted in conjunction with the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce.
Fewer than 700 of the county’s 23,727 registered voters cast ballots in Tuesdays’ election, and while it’s no secret that special elections tend to have low turnout rates, the chance to make a decision concerning taxes usually pulls in a few more concerned citizens.
At a time of economic turmoil, when most people have had it up to here with taxes, the lack of crowds at the polls is perhaps a bit surprising, but likely indicative of one of a few things: either citizens felt that their votes wouldn’t matter because ESPLOST was going to pass no matter what; they didn’t care one way or another what happened; or they didn’t know enough about the election — or the measure — to warrant casting a ballot.
Perhaps the fact that ESPLOST is not a new tax, merely a continuation of an existing tax, made it less intimidating to voters. After all, they’ve been paying the extra 1 percent for years. In addition, ESPOST just makes sense as a type of “pay-as-you-go” plan, ultimately saving the school system money in the long run by eliminating the need to borrow — and pay interest on — funds to pay for projects, improvements and repairs.
And, unlike property taxes, a portion of ESPLOST is not paid by Liberty County residents but by those who visit the area, eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores. It would be a shame not to take advantage of the ability to use non-resident dollars to provide a better education for our children.
Of course, there always will be opponents who say ESPLOST spending is ambiguous or the funds aren’t put to good use. What many people fail to realize, however, is that the revenue only can be used for certain expenditures. Under Georgia law, ESPLOST money cannot be used for salaries or benefits. That’s a bitter pill to swallow as teachers contend with furlough days and slashed salaries. But if the best measure of a teacher’s success is how well his or her students perform, the ESPLOST certainly is a powerful tool to put in the hands of educators.
What better way to guarantee students’ future achievements than to provide them with state-of-the-art technology, top-notch facilities and skill-set enhancing programs? Furthermore, legislation signed into law last week by Gov. Nathan Deal makes it more difficult for Georgia students to qualify for the HOPE Scholarship. Many of those who do qualify won’t receive as much aid as students in previous years.
Now, more than ever, students must rely on their intelligence and training to get them into colleges and workplaces. Handouts and help are few and far between. The provisions paid for by ESPLOST will give Liberty County students the edge they need to succeed.