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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Six days until Sunday sales — and school tax — votes

Posted By on Wed, Nov 2, 2011 at 8:31 PM

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One of our regular commenters asked an excellent question on Fresh Loaf yesterday that I'd like to address: Why has there been so little publicity or talk about next Tuesday's referenda on Sunday liquor sales and the school tax? In other words, why haven't we seen more press and/or PSAs about these important votes?

First, a little background. Atlanta voters, including those in DeKalb, have two major issues to decide on Tuesday:

• whether to approve package sales of beer, wine and that sweet corn liquor on Sunday, and

• whether to extend the one-cent special-purpose local option sales tax for Atlanta Public Schools

Say what?!? APS officials and schools just spent the past dozen years pocketing an as-yet-determined-but-certainly-huge amount of unearned bonus money from the federal government by falsifying test scores and the system now wants taxpayers to renew a tax to give them more money? Talk about chutzpa!

Just today, the feds revoked the "adequate" standing of half the city's elementary and middle schools due to the cheating scandal, and the state seized control of five of the worst-performing schools. As we await indictments, we haven't even seen the full scope of the fraud or the cover-up, and now they want more of our money?

The answer, of course, is, yes, they do want more of our money. That's why you haven't heard much about Tuesday's SPLOST vote — because, as any political operative knows, the less a referendum is discussed, the more likely it is to pass. Here's the logic: If a ballot issue is largely under the public radar, the people most likely to vote are the ardent supporters. But if it's widely publicized, then it's more likely to pick up opposition.

The school system has had this SPLOST in place for 12 years — during which time then-Superintendent Beverly Hall and her lieutenants were allegedly overseeing what was basically a large-scale criminal enterprise. Also during this time, the APS was awash in money: more than $400 million(!) from the sales tax over just the past four years; more than $550 million a year in operating funds — more than the Atlanta city government — from property taxes and federal grants; and tens of millions in cash and in-kind donations from a gaggle of foundations and businesses which had bought into Hall's story of success.

Now, SPLOST revenues can only be spent on capitol projects, real estate and equipment. It's why you don't see many classroom trailers anymore. But that simply meant that the APS didn't need to spend its general fund cash on building schools and buying property. Instead, that money could be thrown around on Hall's many "education consultants" or laundered back into the pockets of crooked teachers and administrators.

Does it sound like I'm planning to vote against the school SPLOST next Tuesday, Nov. 8? Damn straight I am. And I would encourage you to do the same. Please feel free to argue otherwise and watch this space for more tomorrow.

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