|Ocala, FL -
May 6, 2012|
Published in the Ocala Star-Banner on Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 6:30 a.m.
It's a close call, but the School Board erred when it placed its tax initiatives on the August primary ballot instead of the November general ballot.
Voters will decide two proposed property tax increases: a half mill for school operations and a half mill for school capital expenses. Each is expected to garner $7 million a year. Each would last four years.
The School Board and school administration made reasonable arguments for putting the questions on the Aug. 14 ballot:
The earlier vote will let planners know what, if any, new tax revenue will be available for the 2012-13 spending plan. The budget must be completed in September.
If passed, the taxes can be added to this year's tax bills and collected in the fall.
Unofficially, the August placement makes sense for two other reasons.
It prevents conflict with the one-mill hospital tax question on the November ballot.
The people who are most in tune with education will be voting in August, since School Board races and a high-profile Republican primary for school superintendent will be on that ballot.
But all those sensible points can't trump this one: Whenever possible, tax questions should go on the ballot most likely to attract the highest voter turnout.
And that ballot will be Nov. 6, which will include the presidential race.
In 2008, the last presidential year, voter turnout was 15 percent for the August primary. In the November general election, turnout was 76 percent.
History suggests a similar gap will emerge this year.
It's no easy or enviable task, but school budget planners could devise a Plan A (both taxes pass), a Plan B (only one passes) and a Plan C (neither passes).
As for the conflict with the hospital tax:
School funding and the future of Munroe Regional Medical Center are distinct issues and should be decided on their respective merits. Still, during tough times, there is a reasonable concern that November voters might go "either/or" and not "all of the above" if all three taxes were on the same ballot.
But that was a chance worth taking. If the school taxes are worthy, their supporters would have found a way to overcome voter fatigue. If the supporters couldn't do so, at least the measures would have fallen short honorably.
Instead, the results will always be tainted.
Most tax questions are handled, as they should be, by elected representatives. From time to time the voters are asked special questions.
This is one of those times. The School Board should have trusted the election system more and worried about the logistics less.
And the people who support these school taxes should have accepted, even embraced, the chance to make their case to the fullest audience.