Bill would let school districts raise taxes with no referendum

Delaware State News | by Matt Bittle

DOVER — Draft legislation in the General Assembly would let school districts raise property taxes without referendums.

The bill, which has not yet been assigned a number, would enable school boards to increase taxes every two years by the percentage change in the federal Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers or by 3 percent. Such tax hikes could only be used to pay for operational costs and not construction.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow, is sure to be controversial. Attempts to contact Rep. Jaques were not immediately successful.

Districts currently can only raise property taxes through referendums, and the state has seen several high-profile referendums fail in recent years, such as in Indian River, Colonial and Christina.

In some instances, districts have passed referendums several months after the initial attempts failed.

Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, in an email, blasted the proposed bill, referencing a potential $37 million cut by the state in education funding.

“This bill is a blatant attempt to shirk the Legislature’s responsibility to adequately fund public education and seek the necessary revenue to do so,” he wrote. “The taxpayers should not overlook the additional fact that the proposed $37 million in cuts will not include $6 million that is let to the charter schools to fund these same programs. The prime sponsors of this proposed legislation, who have been less than aggressive supporters of equal treatment and funding between charter schools and traditional schools, instead seem to feel that the public will find tax increases imposed by a volunteer (unpaid) board of elected citizens as palatable.

“I imagine that another benefit will be to disguise and hide the fact that the General Assembly is abdicating its responsibility and authority to raise revenue for public services not to mention that any school board choosing to use such authority would probably doom the chances of success for any future referendums, regardless of their legitimacy.”

An unsuccessful 2014 bill would have allowed districts to institute higher taxes, to the tune of no more than 3 percent.

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