Monday, April 29, 2019

I've Got Your School Funding Right Here, Duval

I was talking to a friend recently when he made a statement that surprised me, since he is a fairly conservative individual. He said people in Florida don't want to pay any taxes but want to get all the benefits of states where people pay more in taxes. He's right, of course. We expect to have police and fire protection, public schools, trash picked up, etc. When Duval County Public Schools started claiming it would add an extra sales tax in order to rebuild schools, it got me to wondering how the schools got so bad that over a billion bucks are needed to fix them. Then I looked at my friend's property tax record online, and it was fairly clear.




My friend bought his house in 2000 for $90,000. According to tax records, it's worth $85,000 today. That's because houses don't go up in value when people stay in them. He gets the Homestead Exemptions, too (half on schools, like all of us). So, he has a house worth nearly double what he's being assessed in taxes, and pays under $1,000 in property taxes. Of that, it looks like he pays $255 to schools (state law) plus $135 (local board) = $390 towards schools. My house, which was bought in 2017, is worth less than double what his is worth, yet I pay about triple the taxes overall, and I pay a total of $1,100 towards schools. I'm not complaining about either scenario, per se, just stating that the hole in school funding can probably be traced to the tax setup, which penalizes new owners and favors those who stay put.

By contrast, I own a house in Milwaukee that gets re-assessed every year. And it has gone up most every year since I've owned it (2006), save for a few years when the mortgage crisis gripped America. Therefore, I pay $1,300 in taxes for Milwaukee Public Schools. The house is probably worth a little more than my friend's house here in Jacksonville, but not by all that much. The school tax rate is a little higher, but the assessment and no exemptions ensure I pay the full amount.

Florida is a low tax state, but we sometimes need to find a way to raise a lot of money. If we go with a sales tax for new schools (like some other Florida cities), then that's what we do. Tolls and sin taxes can also be used for schools, I suppose. But it's also true that higher property taxes have the potential to produce the money needed for school improvements, either by changing the assessment system or by completely eliminating the school portion of the Homestead Exemption. The problem is that any funding source will require taxpayer approval, and that's probably a tough sell to people accustomed to low taxes and big exemptions. The general rule is that added sales tax hurts the lower income folks more proportionally, but higher property taxes might send more people running for St. Johns County, where they're building new schools seemingly monthly.

No matter what, $1 billion is a lot of money to have to find. I'm glad I'm not the one having to dig it up, and I also hope I don't have to pay more than my fair share. Of course, the sale of JEA would also produce more than $1 billion, so there's that.