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FRIDAY, MARCH 4, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Minimum school property tax better way to compare

Officials in those Alabama counties that are on the low end of property taxes for schools always have a ready answer about why.

They tax, but they tax in different ways, they say, citing sales tax. That's a dodge to get the more affluent communities to subsidize their public education.

The nation is built on wealthy states helping the poor ones, and Alabama gets back many more dollars from Washington than it sends.

Helping the less affluent school districts would be fine, but they need to make a financial effort commensurate with their ability to pay.

A bill to require school systems to have a minimum 10 mills property tax came out of legislative committee this week on a voice vote, which means members of the House Education Finance and Appropriations Committee know the perils of advocating a property tax.

A majority of the state's schools systems have 10 mills or more tax, leaving 30 to rely on sales tax.

The equity funding lawsuit that originated in Lawrence County had the effect of penalizing school systems that want to do extras for their students. Ironically, Lawrence County is among those school systems that still have less than 10 mills.

Lawrence County has 9 mills and Limestone and Athens each have 8.5 mills. Mountain Brook, for example, has 52.5 mills.

Requiring each system to have at least 10 mills property tax for schools would give the state a better base for measuring local effort. It would also increase stable revenue for these school systems by $14.9 million without putting homeowners in a financial bind. One mill increase on a $100,000 home represents an extra $10 in taxes.

Put to a referendum, Alabama voters would approve the minimum tax because it is more equitable than the existing formula for funding.

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