In another life, I was a vice president and corporate officer of one the largest companies in America. My job included a number of responsibilities, one of which was managing a budget — a very large budget.
I, like my colleagues, always needed more money and more people every year. Our CEO, more often than not, turned a deaf ear to our pleas and instructed us to make do with what we had. More people and more money meant more pressure on the bottom line. Shareholders want a positive bottom line. I must admit that somehow we found a way to do it. Had we not, I am sure my boss would have found someone who could. Fear is a great motivator.
In a blinding flash of the obvious, I have decided that government doesn’t work like that. There is no bottom line. The more money you take in, the more you have available to spend. And the more abstruse are the justifications.
To wit, Cobb County’s spokesman Ross Cavitt put out a two-minute video prior to last week’s commission meeting to consider the county’s proposed $475 million general fund budget for FY 2020. He referred to “strange newspaper ads” about a property tax increase. He said that “for whatever reason,” the state requires local governments to advertise a tax increase if they take in more money than the year before, which Cobb County did. Sounds like a tax increase to me.
Yes, the county digest has increased by 6 percent, Cavitt admits, and our economy is “still pretty good,” but to roll back the millage rate to what was brought in last year would be a challenge “because we are working on a budget before we know what the tax digest will be.” Welcome to the real world. We never knew what our revenues would be when we made up our budgets, either.
Cavitt explained that much of the excess revenues generated from last year’s 1.7 mill increase will be used for increased pay for county employees, including public safety and that Cobb’s millage rate will remain the smallest of the big four counties in the area (although his chart shows only three — DeKalb, Gwinnett and Cobb.)
In summation, Cavitt boldly predicted that none of the commissioners would vote for another millage rate increase at the July 25 meeting, which was just short of predicting the sun will rise in the east.
He did not forecast, however, that two of the commissioners — Bob Ott and Kelli Gambrill — would vote “no” to what the Marietta Daily Journal called a “bloated budget” which “increases taxes no matter how many ways he (Chairman Mike Boyce) wants to spin it.”
Speaking of “spin,” Cavitt is paid six figures to act as the county’s communications chief and comes across looking like Boyce’s personal spin doctor. I wondered if he conferred with other commissioners before launching into his this-isn’t-a-tax-increase-it-just-looks-like-one narrative? A short visit with Commissioner Gambrill might have altered the dialogue a tad.
In voting no on the budget, Gambrill noted the county allegedly faced a $30 million deficit last year, which was supposedly covered by the 1.7 mill increase. “Looking at this year,” Gambrill said, “we automatically have $30 million more in our budget to spend.” The freshman commissioner then asked, “If we truly have that money, where is it and why isn’t it being reflected and taken off the backs of the taxpayers?”
A bit frightening was an observation by Commissioner Ott that while the enabling legislation that created the county commission referred to that body as the Commissioners of Roads and Bridges, roughly 95 percent of the county’s transportation department is funded by the 1% Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or SPLOST, and not the general fund, as intended. The current SPLOST expires in 2022. What happens if voters don’t approve a new one?
Objections aside, the budget passed 3-2, with commissioners JoAnn Birrell and Lisa Cupid joining chairman Boyce in voting yes.
This sets up an interesting political scenario going forward. Republican Mike Boyce is running for a second term and makes no apologies for last year’s millage rate increase and the additional monies it has brought to the county coffers. To his credit, he has rolled the opposition thus far.
Will another Republican step into the chairman’s race and run against Boyce, claiming to be the true conservative who will cut taxes? Will Cobb Republicans show their penchant for self-destruction and allow Democrat Lisa Cupid to waltz into office?
Of course, this is all yet to be determined. The only thing I know for sure is that you and I are likely to pay more taxes this year, even though the county poohbahs say they have not increased taxes. Welcome to the wonderful world of government-speak.