If the School Bonds are DOA – Mayor Charles Meeker probably did more to kill them than anyone else. Inadvertently.
County Commissioner Tony Gurley and Mayor Meeker have been leading the cheers for passing between $1.3 and $1.9 billion in School Bonds (and, of course, raising taxes to pay for them).
The Chamber of Commerce poll says not one of the three bond proposals Gurley-Meeker are pushing receives support from a majority of voters. And, since as a rule, support for bond issues usually declines during a campaign – the more people learn the more opposition grows – the bonds would seem to be, if not DOA with voters, pretty close to it.
What Commissioner Gurley and Mayor Meeker don’t get is that the City Council and County Commissioners can’t just go on spending money like drunken sailors on a spree and then turn around and say, now we need to raise taxes – property taxes, transfer fee taxes, impact fees, or whatever – a billion, or two billion, dollars.
Consider this hypothetical example.
On Monday morning a voter opens the newspaper and reads Mayor Meeker’s spending another $34 million downtown to build an underground parking garage beneath his downtown hotel and Convention Center – when a normal, above ground parking lot would only cost a fraction as much.
On Monday it looks like the Mayor – and the City – are rolling in money. In fact, the Mayor’s got so much money he can even afford to pay a $20 million ‘subsidy’ to the Marriott folks for a hotel downtown.
Tuesday, the same voter opens his paper and there’s Gurley – Meeker saying, we’re broke, and need $1.9 billion – and to raise taxes – for schools.
Wednesday, that same voter gets polled.
What Mayor Meeker and Commissioner Gurley don’t understand is voters’ real concern. According to the Chamber of Commerce poll, voters know the schools are overcrowded. And they are concerned. But they’re also concerned about how the Mayor (and the County Commissioners, too) are spending a couple of hundred million dollars of taxpayers’ money on things like underground parking garages.
If Mayor Meeker and Commissioner Gurley want voters to pass a School Bond, first they have to show some fiscal responsibility. They have to show they’re not wasting taxpayers’ money on things like hotels – which taxpayers don’t want to pay higher taxes to subsidize.
There’ve been two proposals on the City Council that would do that – in part. The first would take the Meals and Hotel tax money (which the Mayor uses to pay for things like Convention Centers) and use part of it to build schools. The other proposal would have taken part of the Triangle Transit Authority’s budget (about $7 million) which is being used to continue to promote Lite-Rail (even after Washington has said it will not fund Lite-Rail) and use that money to build schools.
Mayor Meeker killed both proposals. And, in a way, he dealt the school bonds a death blow at the same time. Because voters won’t buy raising taxes when they see Meeker spending millions on things less important than schools.
If Gurley-Meeker are serious about passing the School Bonds, a good start would be for them to now support both the above proposals – and start using that money to build schools.
Once Mayor Meeker and Commissioner Gurley have cut the hotels, downtown supermarkets, five star restaurants and so on out of their respective budgets and start using that money for schools, then, maybe, if the schools still need more money, they can make a case to voters for school bonds.