Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Anatomy of a Rejection, part 4

The last command column asked for 500 words or less, "delving into whether taxpayers in suburban areas have an obligation to support homeless shelters, public hospitals, schools or similar services in the central city." This is a particular bugaboo in much of Atlanta's liberal press (which is to say pretty much all of Atlanta's press), in which those greedy, un-hip (and, of course, RACIST!) suburbanites are entirely too mean with their money when it comes to funding the ever-growing demands of the city of Atlanta and Fulton County.

I'm still quite satisfied with this one.

The editorial board wonders whether “taxpayers in suburban areas have an obligation to support homeless shelters, public hospitals, schools or similar services in the central city.”

Plenty of people in the metro who don’t live within the ‘central city’ certainly do feel a moral compulsion to provide aid to the destitute and uneducated. Citizens of Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties gave a combined $1.5 billion to charity in 2005.* Of course, those are voluntary contributions, and what we’re really talking about here is taxes—a very different matter.

“Support” in this context is a euphemism for “pay for.” In metro Atlanta, what we’re really talking about is taxpayers being obliged to pay money to particular governments—in this case the City of Atlanta and Fulton County.

Taxpayers in Sandy Springs and Dunwoody and John’s Creek voted to break the political bands that had connected them to Fulton County not thanks to “suburban greed,” but out of frustration over being treated like an ATM machine by a political apparatus that held them in open contempt. Constantly ignored by the central authority, they quite naturally revolted against taxation without representation.

A more accurate question would be, “Why should taxpayers in suburban areas have any reason to believe their money would be spent well or wisely if given to politicians in the central city?” The sewer line debacle, financial scandals at MARTA, the County Commission and City Council, plus a former mayor in prison are evidence that taxing the ‘burbs would be throwing good money after bad.

While there will inevitably be pro forma accusations of “racism” leveled against anyone who questions giving more money to Atlanta or Fulton County, corruption and waste are hardly “black” issues. One need look no farther than the sublimely-named Mitch Skandalakis, a white, Republican and corrupt former Fulton County Commissioner who earned a prison term in 2004. Waste and malfeasance at the heart of the metro are not related to melanin; insider back-scratching at the cost of the taxpayers knows no color.

Atlanta’s schools are a disaster. Check the rankings at psk12.com, where you’ll find “Atlanta City” listed over and over again at the tail end of the lists, and that’s not because of underfunding. The tax take for Atlanta Public Schools in 2008 was about $662 million, a staggering $13,500 per student.** That’s nearly as much as tuition at Marietta’s pricey Walker School, but APS isn’t getting similar results for the same money. Where taxpayer dollars are actually going is an obvious problem, but an overall lack of money isn’t the issue.

Then there’s the issue of whether government “services” serve mostly to attract more dependency, rather than to cure actual ills. Who can walk past the ranks of panhandlers—particularly thick on the hospital staff’s paydays—outside Grady Hospital and doubt whether governmental largesse attracts supplicants?

Here’s a better question: why don’t the voters in the “central city” demand political leadership that isn’t comprised mostly of wastrels, machine pols and outright crooks?

*Reference 1
**Reference 2

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