Friday, March 16, 2012

Property taxes

Schools here are funded mostly by property taxes.  Here, is East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.  Main problem is that for a few years this was a boom area. People came because cheaper houses allowed New Jersey and New York residents to upgrade.  Property taxes here were lower than in New York and New Jersey. It was a gold rush. At first the long commute to higher jobs seemed worth it because of woods, big yards, deer, and bears that could be fed doughnuts. Then gas prices went up. Expanding schools required higher property taxes.  Many moved back to where they lived before because it was now cheaper and the long commute proved more taxing than first believed. There are now many empty houses here. There are three on my short road.  Empty houses do not deliver taxes but big school buildings with swimming pools, have long, large mortgages and extra teachers are protected by tenure and unions.  Property taxes go up, catastrophically for many, leading to more empty houses and yet higher taxes.  No one wants to buy a house in a heavily taxed area so there is almost no construction, for many years the main industry here, and unemployed builders and their unemployed workers are losing homes to foreclosure.  No one wants to close schools in their neighborhood and no one wants to fire their children's teachers but many believe it is ok to fire administrators. 

A good solution might be to change the tax support structure. The fairest, of course, would be to increase graduated income taxes but no one wants higher income taxes.  Lots want a sales tax because they think visitors and other outsiders could be made to pay for a good part of our schools. Those that believe this do not realize that this would be a tax less fair to lower and middle income people than an income tax.  They think it would be less painful.  Maybe so. 

It is easy to blame the administrators who stupidly believed that the boom would continue forever.  But, most people are delusional in the same way.  Many of us believe we will live forever, or at least act as if we believe that.  The hindsight approach would be to build flexible schools, schools that expanded and contracted painlessly in sync with  population fluctuations.  But we're not that smart. Yet.  Flexibility in architecture, and likely in all ways of being, would be a good way to go.

For now, there is no way to avoid the pain of past stupidity and greed and a desire to construct monumental schools named after local luminaries.  When there is not enough to go around people get very nasty and concentrate more on fixing blame than on fixing situations. So, school board meetings are packed and people are very vulnerable to solutions that readily translate into slogans. The extreme Right thrives.  This is the kind of environment that breeds racism and other more inclusive forms of fascism. That's where we are today. Here, nationally and perhaps worldwide.


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