Friday, August 24, 2012

Early Education – Who Benefits | Casey's Last Word

Government spending is often cast as an investment, and sometimes it is.

Roads and bridges are public investments in commerce, as were the generous land grants on which railroads were laid.

The Internet wouldn’t exist without government investment.

And, of course, schools are absolutely an embodiment of the old cliché: an investment in our future.

A man once called me and in all seriousness asked why he should pay school taxes, since his children had graduated years ago.

I told him he and all of us paid school taxes so that there would be people who could buy whatever it was that his grown children produce.

Mayor Julian Castro is casting his ballot proposal calling for a 1/8 cent sales tax to fund model centers for early childhood education as an investment.

If the program does what it is designed to do – prevent the failure of many children from low-income families because they arrive unprepared to first grade – then it will be a good investment indeed.

School dropouts are very expensive.

I appreciate many of the concerns raised by some San Antonio political leaders.

I especially appreciate the argument of several North Side council members that we must find a way of adequately measuring the performance of this investment.

But one argument made by some North Side politicians ventures into the ludicrous.

It is that it is unfair that citizens who don’t live in the city of San Antonio won’t get to vote on the tax despite the fact that they will have to pay it when they shop in San Antonio.

What’s more, their children will likely not be eligible to attend the model early childhood education centers that the tax would fund.

I have three responses to that argument.

The first is, quit whining.

Did you consider that you drove on city streets when you went to that store in the city?

Or that the store has insurance because it is protected by city police and firefighters?

The second response is, you already get a great deal of benefits for the measly amount in city sales tax you pay when you shop in the city.

Your job, assuming you have one, relies on the City of San Antonio for the economy that generates it.

So do the cultural amenities ranging from the museums to the Spurs.

As a political scientist once said to me, imagine Alamo Heights as a suburb of Ozona.

The third is, you’re probably unaware of the ways those who live in the city subsidize your county services.

San Antonians are 76 percent of the people of Bexar County and pay the lion’s share of county taxes.

Yet the nearly $19 million county road and bridge fund is spent entirely in the unincorporated areas.

And the county spends about $20 million for a patrol division that patrols only unincorporated areas and a few very small cities.

Yet the 85 percent who live in San Antonio and the smaller incorporated cities pay full county taxes for these patrols.

And the 24 percent of you who live in the suburbs get to use the San Antonio Public Library System, for which the county pays only about $4 million – or about 10 percent of the library’s operating budget.

And city dwellers also pay for that county contribution, even though they already pay city taxes for the rest of the library operating budget, not to mention for construction costs.

So quit complaining.

If the citizens of San Antonio decide to make this investment, they’ll pay the bulk of the costs.

And if it pays off, you’ll join in the benefits.

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