One thing that bums me out about the way our school district has portrayed the RPS ballot issue is its fear of the word “tax.” As I wrote here, the RPS is effectively a tax—that is, voters are choosing whether sales tax money should go for school infrastructure needs or, instead, back to the taxpayer in the form of property tax relief. The district has been at pains to obscure that fact, emphasizing that the measure “will NOT raise your property taxes,” and trying instead to cast the issue as one of local control. At the initial district presentation about the RPS that I attended, it took me about a half an hour even to understand the issue, because the district was dancing around the central fact of how the RPS relates to tax revenue.
What does it say when people who want to enable social spending—on education, of all things, in one of the bluest counties in America—are afraid of candidly making the argument in its favor?
The consolation is that people seem to be seeing through the spin. Activists on both sides have discussed the issue in terms of social spending and fiscal restraint. Many of the pro-RPS articles (including mine) have argued that voters shouldn’t let their dissatisfaction with district policies undermine their willingness to enable more funding for public education. Meanwhile, the opposition to the RPS has taken on the look of the usual “Vote No” campaigns run by Taxpayers’ Associations everywhere, with an emphasis on “living within a budget.” (The group’s leader, for example, is affiliated with a “free market, limited government think tank” with the web address “limitedgovernment.org.”) The anti-RPS group’s somewhat comical name, “People For All,” might more accurately have been “People Against All.”
Neither side is objectively wrong; they’re just expressing different values. My question is why the district would want to shy away from that view of the conflict in a place like Johnson County. By all appearances, the more the conflict has been put in those terms, the better the pro-RPS side appears to be doing. In Johnson County, the smart money is on the social-spending liberals, not the small-government conservatives. Yet some government officials still see any support for taxes, no matter the justification or audience, as a kind of political third rail that must be avoided with sheepishness and subterfuge. That’s no way to fund a school system.