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Baldwin County tax vote:
'There will be blood'

Figuratively & politically speaking, of course

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
There is nothing like a tax hike for schools during a recession to roil the political waters and Baldwin County is now swimming in those choppy waters.

Voters here next week will decide that always raucous issue where finger-pointing among proponents and opponents is plentiful.

With their vote, up or down, on the one cent sales tax increase, voters are either "for the kids" or miserable sourpusses, on the one hand; on the other, dupes or clear-headed folks willing to call a bluff. Also, selfish or self-serving. 

Maybe that overstates it in either direction, but many voters see themselves as between a rock and a hard place, regardless of whether they think the school system needs, even deserves, additional tax revenues or suffers from the mismanagement flu.

Is a "yes" vote an investment in the future, a commitment to a well-educated work force with all the attendant social and economic benefits? Or is a "yes" vote tantamount to rewarding weak management? Further complicating the equation, will a "yes" vote become the badge of a sucker if the state in the interests of equity shifts Baldwin County educational revenues to a less affluent county? If the latter case recurs as equity is redefined, because the tax expires in three years, well, the joke will be on the state, huh? Won't it? Or will Baldwin get to keep the expired tax because the state sips from the property tax straw?

Knotty questions all. For answers to these questions, MBT called upon its oracular sources from Blacksher to Orange Beach.

Baldwin voters will provide the answer that counts in the March 23 referendum.

Structured with a three-year lifespan, the tax would be collected countywide, generating $25 million annually. The Baldwin County school board projects a revenue shortfall of almost $5 million by the end of this year and $31 million by the end of 2012.

"My guess is that any tax will fail (see Trussville, for example). When you combine 'incomers,' anti's and seniors, I don't see the votes. Big question politically is how much retribution is visited on the Board of Education."
-- AGI,
north Baldwin

I think it's a toss up. The question which no one has asked is why the Board of Education is broke, but the County Commission has a surplus. The answer is that when Frank Burt came on the Commission he insisted that they set up a 'rainy day fund.' Now that it's raining, the Commission is able to continue to function, but the Board of Education is not. It's all about good management."
-- PDT,

"I'm hearing a good bit of support for its passage. I've attended a couple of rally type events, but of course that's preaching to the choir. The 'No Crowd' does not seem to have much of an organization about it.  I'm thinking it will pass by a fairly narrow margin. 

Most civic organizations (and some municipalities and chambers) are behind it. That said, there still seems to be a fair amount of discontent with the Central Office -- a good many rank and file teachers feel that there is still too much top-heaviness in the supervisory staff and budget as opposed to putting the resources truly into the classroom. The Board and
Administration still has a credibility perception which is problematic for the yes vote."
-- BMB,

"My opinion is the tax will pass. It has a three-year 'drop dead' date and we will work toward correcting the ills in that time frame. I do not believe it will
be extended. We must cure the ills of 'equity funding' and teacher tenure.

Paul Hubbert (Alabama Education Association executive director) needs to be in the history book, together with some others. This tax, however, will give Baldwin an opportunity to hire a qualified
superintendent and straighten out the mess or at least get a good plan in place. I feel people have woken up and are ready to pitch in to help."
-- SRM,
real estate

"I think the legislation will pass. The proponents were wise to segregate the issue to its own voting day, thus avoiding the primary on June 1 with substantially more voters. I suspect that most people, myself included, will hold their nose and vote yes."
-- TRS,

"I think it may just make it -- too many mothers with kids in this county. However, who has ever seen a tax go away? Three years, my foot. Then there will be a new crisis. The school board is the group that kept on spending despite warnings. They may be voted out."
-- OLB,
law enforcement

"I would bet it passes! I know pennies add into nickels and dimes, but I feel like it will pass because no matter how we think, grownups blunder. Children need to be educated."
-- LTL,

"I'll be surprised if it passes.

With the insurance companies canceling (policies), people are paying more for less coverage. The increased cost of gas, milk, and other food items rise daily. Higher premiums for health care, and the general feeling of uncertainty in health care, and whether Congress will be increasing taxes.

Higher rental and lease taxes that have been implemented in Baldwin County, higher property taxes. People's budgets are being stretched like never before, and many are afraid about their jobs, some are already working fewer than 40 hours a week. Municipalities looking for additional funds.

It will hurt tourism (Fort Walton/Panama City may become more attractive to the snowbirds). Local businesses that support tourism are already suffering in a down economy. Commercial and residential development is scarce.

People feel there is a lack of sincerity with any governmental entity, and if the people are tightening their belts so should the school system and government as a whole.

There is a good argument that they could actually end up collecting less, as people buy in Pensacola (7.5%) or Mobile, and definitely will make economic development more difficult."
-- FPY,

"Unless I am proved wrong in my prognostication, the voters will not approve this tax in the midst of the Great Recession."
-- PST,

"This one's easy ...

I believe that the one cent sales tax will pass, and once again the voters will be duped into voting in more taxes.

It looks like we will never learn that politicians have never met a tax they didn't like. After all, what is more fun than spending someone else's money? Who in office doesn't understand what it is like to have millions of dollars of someone else's money to throw around? You can buy millions of dollars of machines. Basically employ hundreds of people, who well know that their raises and benefits are one political meeting from reality. Not to mention the power associated with holding office and being the Decider of so many issues.

Of course, it is different this time. Unless we act, the children will suffer!!!! Bull manure. Where is all the money from all the other times we raised taxes so we would have the best school system money can buy? A lot of it is in the poorer rural counties to the North. They forgot to mention that aspect of the last tax they passed. It has to be a rush to be the architect of a scheme to cry wolf and bring out all the moms and dads to parade, wave signs, talk up the issue and make you believe it is un-Christian not to support the tax. The old saying, 'fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me,' does not apply to politicians and their clever ways to take money from my pocket and convert it to their use to further their influence and political interest.

I will be optimistic about the future if the tax fails by a large margin. I believe it is more likely pigs will fly and Paul Hubbert will say teachers are way overpaid and curse lobbyists as vile influence peddlers who are a pox on the body politic."
-- JGS,
real estate

"My gut feeling is that the tax will pass in a close vote (52%-48% or 55%-45%), but should the 'Ax the Tax' supporters get mobilized here in the last seven days, the tax could go down to defeat."
-- SRE,

"My guess is that it will not pass. Too little confidence in Baldwin County Board Of Education's financial management ability, plus the high percentage of retirees with no connection to schools."
-- RDT,
south Baldwin official

"I'm personally against it because I'm tired of subsidizing everyone's financial irresponsibility. I would think it will pass though because the ones really behind it are the parents with kids in the system and they should have a very strong turnout."
-- FFS,

"I give it a chance to pass and my wife and I intend to vote for it. Since a high percentage of the voters in Baldwin County are long time residents/property/home
owners and have an important stake in the County and may have/had children/grandchildren/relatives' children in Baldwin County schools as we did, there
should be enough of those to pass it.

However, it's obvious that the Baldwin County school system is going to have to be run with better skill. That will likely mean bringing in 'outside experts' to do that and getting away from the Baldwin County 'good ole boy' system that still has the roots it had in '78
when we moved to Daphne.

If it does fail, look for Daphne, Fairhope, Spanish Fort and Gulf Shores to explore once again breaking away as
Saraland has done. Daphne High School got off to a terrible start back in the early '90's despite having some fine teachers/staff. It was a convenient
'dumping ground' by the Baldwin County School System for many marginal staff/teachers/coaches no one else wanted and it did not turn around until Daphne parents caught on to what was coming out of Bay Minette and
there was a 'rumor' started about breaking away from the Baldwin County school system unless things changed."
-- GBP,
financial consultant

350 Dauphin St.