Garrett County Government - Department of Business Development

Income Must Be Part of Education Equation

Last Updated on Jan 10, 2020 at 9:10am | Education

Article courtesy of NCWV Media - The Republican. Staff Reporter: Joseph Hauger.
For the first time in nearly a generation, Maryland’s General Assembly has convened under new leadership in both houses.
House Speaker Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County, succeeds Michael Busch, the state’s longest-serving speaker who died unexpectedly on the final day of the 2019 session. Busch had led the House for 17 years.
In the Senate, another Baltimore County Democrat, Bill Ferguson, is taking the gavel from Mike Miller of Calvert County. Miller, who had served for 33 years as Senate president, has stepped back from the role as he battles cancer.
Even with new leaders in both houses, as well as new faces at the helms of various committees, some of the same issues remain at the forefront of the Legislature.
For the 90-day session that began Wednesday, we expect that education will be the dominant issue in the coming months, even as the current roster of legislative leaders put forth efforts on health care, energy, roads and gun control.
Both the lawmakers and Gov. Larry Hogan have vowed to address the sweeping education reform package supported by the Kirwan Commission — which may carry an eventual cost of upwards of $4 billion annually.
Ferguson calls it a “generational moment for public education,” while Hogan has criticized it as a major tax hike on Maryland families.
That leads to the question of just who is going to pay for all of these improvements to the education system. Both Jones and Ferguson have said there would be no push — this session — to hike income tax, property tax or sales tax rates. The initial phase of the Kirwan plan would be covered by an internet commerce tax, potential sports betting, and the elimination of some business tax credits.
However, that takes care of the state’s $2.8 billion portion — leaving the rest to be paid for at the local level.
For Garrett County, the local share would mean coming up with another $12.5 million for the schools.
Compounding the problem is the state’s education allocation formula, which is based on a local government’s assessable property tax base instead of median family or household incomes. Garrett County is considered a “wealthy” county because of high assessments at Deep Creek Lake.
Because of its assessable base, Garrett is considered the sixth wealthiest county in the state, behind Howard, Montgomery, Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Worcester, where Ocean City is located.
As a result, Garrett is required to fund 50 percent of its education requirement. The state pays the other half.
But based on median household income, Garrett County is the fifth poorest in the state.
Based on 2010 census data, Maryland is the richest state in the nation with a median household income of about $69,000. The five poorest jurisdictions based on income are Somerset, $36,700; Allegany, $39,800; Baltimore City, $41,800; Dorchester, $45,600; and Garrett $46,000.
That has the state expecting a lot more money from the Garrett County taxpayers, many of whom may not be able to afford it.
“It’s kind of frightening,” County Commissioner Jim Hinebaugh said while attending a pre-legislative meeting late last year. “If you look at our potential for growth and tax revenues, as you look ahead to the future, there’s not enough to cover it, for sure.”
The Garrett County Chamber of Commerce has expressed its opposition to the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations of increasing the mandated local share of funding to public schools.
The chamber has concluded that Garrett County would have to implement a 25-percent property tax increase to cover the commission’s current recommendations — “absolutely not feasible and completely unreasonable,” the chamber states.
Indeed, it would be. We are certainly not opposed to increasing funding for schools, as Garrett County’s educational administration has discussed how to address deteriorating infrastructure and program expenses in the light of declining enrollment and revenue.
But the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations can’t be implemented in their current form without a potentially devastating impact on Garrett County taxpayers.
As the state’s lawmakers work out how to enact the Kirwan findings, we urge them to come up with a revision to the state’s allocation formula that is not solely reliant upon property values as the basis. Income is an essential part of any future equation.