A weekend interview with...
...JADE MOORE, executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association. Reporter Donna Winchester talks with him about the super-homestead exemption, to be decided by voters in a Jan. 29 referendum, and why he thinks there's much to hate about it.
DW: In order to cut taxes during the special session, Republican lawmakers wrote into the plan $7-billion in cuts to school budgets over four years. Will this be significant even for large school districts, such as Pinellas?
JM: You bet. Unless the Legislature calls itself into a special session, the legislators will not talk about how it's going to plug $7-billion in public school funding for another year. If our goal was to bring some fairness and equity to our tax policy, this sure didn't do it. What the ultimate consequence will be is a drastic cut in funding for all of the state's public schools.
There are a lot of questions, but one thing we know is that the people have never felt overtaxed for their schools. I'm not sure people feel overtaxed for their cities and counties. The Legislature failed to provide adequate resources for public schools, and now we're going to give a tax break to those who don't necessarily want it or need it. That was just a really poor piece of work. As a result of that, there's so much to hate.
DW: There already is talk about having to close some Pinellas schools because of decreasing enrollment. Can you speculate on how Pinellas' budget will be affected by this statewide shortfall?
JM: No, but we can do the math based on the percentage of our state allocation. The numbers are between $70- and $80-million. My expectation is we'll probably lose $10- to $12-million of referendum money, because that probably will not be replaced by the state. That's the kind of numbers we've gotten on first look at this thing.
DW: Do you see any other sources of revenue from which the money could come?
JM: Now that we're condemning ourselves to mediocrity, there are some tremendously robust sources of revenue out there, such as the gambling money that's just come on line. It has the opportunity to raise a billion dollars a year. I see it all having to be used now to plug this hole.
DW: Legislative leaders have said the state will make up the difference when lawmakers do a new state budget next spring in what some are calling a "trust me" provision. Do you trust the legislators to make up the difference next year?
JM: I'm going to take the Legislature at its word that it will replace the money that it cut. But "trust us" is what the legislators said when they passed the lottery. I don't know if they'll do it or not. We don't have enough money to run our schools now. If we had enough money to run our schools, we wouldn't have had to go to the taxpayers and ask for more.
DW: So you don't think this was a good compromise the Legislature reached?
JM: It's one of those issues where the more you know about it, the more you don't like it. But that doesn't surprise me. The Legislature cannot in three days solve a problem that's been generated over the last eight years.
I am worried. The state should be in a position where it's looking for a way to use the revenue it has to improve quality of life. While we have adequate schools, we certainly don't have the great schools and universities that people can be proud of. It takes money to have them, not tax cuts.
People are leaving the state. Enrollment is dropping. Is it because of property tax? No. People are leaving because there are no good paying jobs. I am very concerned about quality of life issues. If you have people who are hurting because of your tax policy, help those people. Don't change your tax policy, because in the end, you'll wind up creating even more problems.