With perhaps some exceptions, nobody likes to pay taxes, but how taxes are collected, and what they are used for, can make a difference in what we think about them.
For example, the biggest tax burdens for most West Virginians are consumer purchases and income. But you don’t hear too much complaining about them, probably because of the way they are assessed. Sales taxes are automatically added to the purchase price and income taxes are taken directly out of your paycheck.
It’s almost as though you don’t see the money, or it’s never quite in your hands.
Property taxes, however, are different. You actually get a bill and then write a check to the county sheriff (unless it’s automatically added to your mortgage). If you fall behind, your name ends up in the newspaper with other delinquents.
No wonder West Virginians take property taxes (real and personal) so… personally. So when counties decide to vote whether to raise their property taxes, all hell breaks loose.
Saturday, Kanawha County voters will decide whether to increase their property taxes to provide more money for public education. The proposal would raise excess levyl rates to their maximum, generating $131 million over the next five years for the school system.
Supporters of the levy, like school board member Robin Rector, argue passionately for passage.
“The future is what’s at stake here,” Rector said on Metronews Talkline Wednesday. She says without additional money, Kanawha County schools are headed for a deficit, which means cuts in vital educational services.
Nonsense, says another school board member, Pete Thaw, who opposes the levy.
“Number one, we don’t need the money. Number two, it’s a hardship on the people. Number three, we spill more than we use now,” Thaw said.
Kanawha County property owners have taken notice, with many doing the math to determine just how much more they would have to pay. Business owners are paying particular attention, since commercial property is taxed at a higher rate.
“It will increase my property taxes at home $477.80, and another $1,500 on my rentals and office!” one levy opponent emailed me.
But a levy supporter emailed: “It comes down to, in an era of fewer federal dollars and increasing expenses, are we going to invest in our children and our community? We say yes.”
And there’s the divide.
Government has become increasingly complicated, which means these kinds of decisions come down to perceptions and trust: do voters believe the schools are doing a good job and deserve greater community support or do they question the efficacy of public education and use the levy to make a statement.
We’ll find out Saturday evening who had the most convincing argument.