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Tax Collection Fee Is Ill-Advised

February 17, 1991

Your Jan. 20 editorial, "Cities Should Bite the Bullet, Absorb Fees," supported legislation passed last year authorizing counties to charge cities the actual costs of jail booking fees. The Times reached its conclusion based on the rationale that a result of Proposition 13 was to make counties an arm of the state, dependent on the state for revenues, while cities retained the ability to raise local fees.

The new legislation did more than pass on the booking fees to cities; it also allows counties to charge school districts for the cost of collecting property taxes. In Orange County, this amounts to an average cost per student of $21, or a total countywide cost of approximately $9.7 million.

This is especially damaging to school districts because, unlike cities or counties, they are restricted by law from collecting fees for operational purposes; therefore, the $9.7 million comes directly from classrooms and has a direct effect on the education of our children.

This loss is exacerbated by the current recession. Because of the poor fiscal condition of California, schools will receive $500 million less this year than anticipated. This reduction of $111 per student means Orange County schools will have $3,330 less to spend in each classroom on instructional materials, such as books.

If the financial loss to schools was this year only, we could "hunker down" and ride it out. But this is not the case. The budget proposed by Gov. Wilson for the 1991-92 school year will reduce school income by another $1.4 billion. This means that Orange County schools will lose an additional $92 per student.

School districts are already facing a major financial crisis and have no room to adjust. It is estimated that statewide 35 school districts will end this year bankrupt, with that number possibly being as high as 100. The imposition of the tax collection fee at this time is ill-advised and should be reversed by the Legislature.

JOHN F. DEAN, County superintendent of schools

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