Our view: Vote yes on sales tax hike to help schools
The original story was posted on RGJ and can be viewed at this link.
The RGJ Editorial Board supports voting yes on WC-1, the initiative to raise Washoe County’s sales tax rate in order to pay for school construction and maintenance.
Eight editorial board members were in favor and two were opposed. No one disagreed that local schools are overcrowded and in disrepair. Two wanted a better tax proposal; eight felt this problem has been put off so long that it is causing harm to thousands of children being forced to try to learn in difficult environments and that it is also hurting economic development.
WC-1 would raise the local sales tax rate from 7.725 to 8.265, making Washoe’s tax rate the highest in Nevada and one of the nation’s highest. It would allow the school district to issue $781 million in bonds over the next decade for infrastructure projects.
Reasons to vote yes on WC-1
• About half the schools in Reno-Sparks have exceeded their student capacities, and 6,200 more students are expected in the district in the next five years. Washoe schools already use 229 portable classrooms to deal with overflow. Students are being taught in hallways and even closets. In many elementary schools, two classes with two teachers are being taught at the same time in one room. This is just one of the creative ways the district has been dealing with overcrowding, but such an environment is not as conducive to learning as one class, one teacher, one room. WC-1 funding would pay for 15 new schools: nine elementaries, three middle schools and three high schools.
• There is not enough money to pay for school repairs, big and small. Some have faulty air-conditioning; others faulty heaters. Some have doors that have trouble locking, causing police and school administrators to come out for false alarms. WC-1 would raise $20 million a year for repairs to existing schools.
• Other counties have multiple funding mechanisms to pay for school construction and maintenance. Washoe County is the only one that does not. School impact fees for developers are not allowed under state law and would only pay a one-time portion of new school costs anyway. The Nevada Legislature and the Washoe County Commission failed in attempts to deal with the problem. It is up to voters to do what politicians have been too weak-willed to do.
• Critics claim they cannot trust the school board to spend the money properly because of past bad decisions. By law, the money can be used only for building projects, not for teachers, not for administration. Also, an oversight committee made up of community members must sign off on capital projects and if it does not think the projects are justified, the school board must explain in writing its reasoning. Further, an almost entirely new board will be seated after this election.
• Opponents do not like that the tax does not sunset. Even though many sunset taxes never end and the name is just a gimmick for some politicians to claim they did not permanently raise taxes, the district’s construction and maintenance needs are not going away in 10 years. The mechanism of paying for schools through property taxes only was shown to be inadequate during the recession; an additional sales tax source broadens the funding source so schools are less at risk from typical economic ups and downs.
• The initiative is an economic investment in two ways: It helps the community’s children get a better education, and smarter kids pays economic dividends through higher taxes from productive citizens and through lower social costs related to crime and welfare. In addition, economic development officials whose job it is to entice businesses to locate here know that good schools make Northern Nevada more attractive while overcrowded schools repel prospects.
• Symbolically, passage of WC-1 shows that we as a community value education. Rejection shows we do not.