The Over-62 Entitlement: Why I Can’t Run For Office

Over the past couple of months, I have become more active locally by way of the elementary school my children attend. I have found in my fellow parents and community members a passion similar to mine for preserving the character and commitment that our school embodies and elicits of its students, faculty, parents and neighbors.

In this (relatively) small school, we find a diverse group of students from a wide range of economic and ethnic backgrounds. Working hard everyday to educate those students, we see a dedicated group of professionals whose mission is to insure that they prepare their charges to the maximum extent they can for the challenges that will confront them as they move on to bigger – and hopefully better - things.

The students, parents and faculty all benefit and contribute to varying degrees from the efforts of one another. Together, though, these disparate parts comprise a body that is strong and getting stronger. The reason? Because those who can help do.  Even in cases where their contribution is clearly far outweighing their benefits. You see this behavior from faculty, from parents and even from many students. They help each other – frequently without regard to personal benefit – not because they expect something or feel they are owed it. They help because they recognize that that is what neighbors and citizens do for each other. They make sacrifices and personal commitments that often outweigh personal benefit.

To sit back and proclaim “I get no reward, why should I provide effort” or “I did my service, now it’s my turn” is the very nature of the so-called “entitlement mentality” that so many in this country have come to abhor. The notion that you’re owed something – whether due to some effort you’ve made in the past, or due to some injustice you feel you’ve been subjected to – is antithetical to the American spirit. In fact, it is in many respects directly at odds with the founding principles of our country.

People have jokingly asked me why I don’t run for Cobb County School Board. I usually demur, thanking them for even thinking something like that. But I can’t run even if I wanted to – because I wouldn’t run a race I couldn’t foreseeably win.

In Cobb County we have a group of citizens who feel that they’ve no responsibility to provide for the needs of their fellow citizens. This is not a case of people who are doing nothing and expecting a handout.  In fact, this is a case where one group of citizens is in fact reaping significant rewards, yet steadfastly refusing to provide contribution for what they are getting. These individuals embody the very essence of entitlement.  These individuals realize higher home values, greater general fund revenues and more opportunities by living in Cobb County than they would receive elsewhere. One of the primary reasons they see these benefits is because of the strong foundation of educational excellence that Cobb County has established.

But today, that reputation is in danger. The schools are underfunded, test scores are falling and the county often fails to make the top 10 list for schools in nearly any searchable ranking list. Cobb County has the 5th highest median household income and is ranked 82nd in per pupil spending. It is true that we do a lot with a little - but we could likely do a lot more with even a little more.  

In good times, the SAT scores were rising, the schools were well funded and nobody cared that nearly 20% - one of every five - of the residents in the county paid no taxes to support the schools.  Now, when things are bad, people are scrambling and looking for answers. Some board members have proposed special sales taxes, SPLOST bills keep coming up, other remedies are suggested, but one thing - one group - is always off limits. 

No one dares touch the third rail of the over-62 exemption. 

Why? It is an entitlement program and everyone these days seems uniformly opposed to entitlements. Yet, this entitlement in particular is sacrosanct.

I want to make it abundantly clear that I mean no disrespect for those over 62. In most cases they’ve performed services of inestimable value for our community and our country and I have great respect for them. But, their insistence that they should be exempt from paying school taxes is illogical and unfair.  No defense they can raise stands up to even the most timid of assaults. This is not a matter of respect, it is an issue of a logical and reasonable interpretation of the notion of fairness. 

Those over 62 realize property values that are higher because of the schools. Their community is better off because young people with children choose to live around them and bring with them jobs and services. Good schools contribute to lower crime, greater local incomes, more community services, etc. etc. etc All of these benefits are well documented and all of these are benefits they derive without paying – protesting that “they don’t have school age children, so why should they pay?”

If you don’t own a car, should you not pay for the roads? Of course you should – because you still derive benefit from the very fact that roads exist. Roads provide prosperity. Schools are like roads. They give children a means to get from point A (kindergarten) to point b (meaningful, contributory citizenship). Those who oppose paying for schools are opposed to paying for progress and prosperity. They have their prosperity, why should they help to provide for anyone else’s?  

So, I can’t run for Cobb County School Board or any other office. I can’t run because opposition to this tax exemption would be the first bullet point on my platform and that opposition would insure my defeat – a defeat that would waste the money and time of those who could help me in my campaign.

Most of all, I can’t run because those who benefit the most from this entitlement are also those who vote the most. Meanwhile, those of us with children who pay taxes, those with no children who still pay taxes, and those who work hard to educate our children – we will continue to provide this entitlement to those who do none of the above.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jeff A. Taylor December 10, 2013 at 05:55 PM
A good start, but let's be clear -- the Senior Exemption is not alone among the "third rails" of education policy in Cobb County. It is simply a fiction that ALL homeowners do not benefit from quality public schools. Other disconnects abound, however. There are ways to fix them -- and inflame other special interests. -- Change state law to allow the current local option sales tax to be spent on capital OR operational needs. Certainly easier than trying to create an entirely new class of sales tax, as David Banks and a cadre of system staff fantasize about. The building lobby will not like breaking open their piggy bank, but presumably we care about kids not concrete. -- Contract out ALL non-educational functions. Cherokee made steps in this direction and did not fall off the edge of the earth. As it is right now, Cobb values janitors as much as teachers. Does that make sense? -- Embrace online learning and teachers. This is very threatening to classroom teachers. Too bad. It is the wave of the future. That Cobb backtracked on this under pressure from classroom teachers recently is very disappointing to anyone who understands technology. You'll notice a theme: Confront special interests to serve the common good. Not terribly revolutionary. Or perhaps entirely too much so.
Kevin M Brewster December 10, 2013 at 06:36 PM
My neighbors added one of their fathers to the deed to qualify for the exemption. The father doesn't live in the house and never has. Worse yet, they have 2 kids that attend the public schools. Another neighbor called to report it and the county tax worker just laughed.
M Greenfield December 10, 2013 at 08:09 PM
After educating our two wonderful children in the East Cobb schools from Kindergarten through 12th grade, we are now elligible for the homestead exemption you refer to. I was ASTOUNDED when I saw what our real estate taxes will be next year. WHY? We still own our home and will benefit from the excellent reputation of the East Cobb schools when we eventually sell our home! Why should our tax bill drop by almost 80%? We have lived in several parts of this country and have NEVER heard of such a elder benefit. CRAZY!
M. Stone December 11, 2013 at 07:04 AM
My husband and I actually think our tax bill is reasonable for the decent education our children have gotten here in East Cobb. Compared to private school tuition, we clearly did not pay for what it was worth. When we reach the age of the exemption, we are considering sending our tax savings directly to our schools' foundation associations, and cut out the bureaucratic middlemen who skim off their share and misdirect the money. Perhaps you should consider running for office on a platform encouraging such *voluntary* funding sources from those who have benefitted, instead of trying to raise more taxes on those who can't afford it, to be spent (and wasted) by those less accountable.
your own luck December 11, 2013 at 09:40 AM
Once you have paid that school tax for over 40 years and reach the age of 62 and are retired on a very fixed income, you may think differently about this. It is not an "entitlement" and your tax bill does not drop by 80%. If you called the East Cobb County Government Center to report a family falsifying who lives in a home, I can guarantee you that no one would laugh and it would be corrected.
Mike Holzknecht December 12, 2013 at 05:50 PM
I am 65 and do not take the Senior school tax exemption. I moved to Cobb because of it's former quality of public education. Quality public education is the foundation for Cobb's economy. It keeps my property value high. It is why my company relocated here. I don't know if they would do it today. School board member David Banks does not pay school taxes. State Rep. Sharon Cooper does not pay school taxes. Senator Johnny Isakson does not pay school taxes. The greedy got the law changed and now take advantage of it.
William December 15, 2013 at 09:16 AM
The 62 exemption is just one of the major problems. State equalization grants send at least $131 million of school tax money collected in Cobb to other counties. Even Gwinnett receives these funds! The other major problem is that this is such a great place to live and thus seniors are "retiring in place." This means that the housing inventory is not turning over to young families who do pay school taxes. Of course this also serves to put fewer children in our schools but, along with Equalization Grants, it is a trend that is causing school tax revenues to shrink. This is another subject but it's closely related. East Cobbers near the proposed Isakson Living Development are seeking zoning changes that would essentially keep senior-only housing developments in industrial and dense commercial areas in Cobb. This will ensure none of these facilities will be in Cobb, while the number of people who need them will double over the next ten years. These developments pay school taxes and the availability of them would entice seniors to move out of their homes, thus turning over housing inventory to young families seeking good schools, and creating another revenue source for schools in senior-only housing.
Tracy December 15, 2013 at 09:42 AM
Thank you so much for writing this article. When they passed this tax exemption there was not much thought about the baby boomers "aging in place" and the fact that this would shrink revenues. Our property taxes are so low for the quality education we provide but that quality is slippling away. I would pay more in taxes if I knew it would go to the schools. I do like the comment from William about having senior housing developments in the area. Someone is going to develop on that property and the senior development would be much better than an office complex. Also, it would be an ideal location for aging parents to be near their family. The tax exemption needs to go.
Michelle Sollicito December 15, 2013 at 10:33 AM
Eric I agree that the Senior Exemption should never have been enacted in the first place. Some more equitable system would have been better - for example, one that started at age 65 and perhaps involved some kind of means testing so that the likes of Johnny Isaakson would not be able to opt out. However, the reality is it is here now and is here to stay. One of the most worrying consequences in my opinion is the fact that it encourages more and more seniors to move into our area and they get tax exemption immediately on moving here (surely there should be a Residency Requirement of a few years at least, as suggested by JoEllen Smith?) and because more seniors move into the area, and fewer families, the School income will continue to dwindle and our problem will simply get worse. I know David Banks is attempting to at least reduce the amount we have to pay into the QBE formula because currently the formula is calculated based upon the assumption that we charge 100% of the property tax we can charge, whereas we lose around 20% in exemptions. I applaud that effort and hope David is successful though I am not optimistic about his chances. I like the idea of asking our Seniors to voluntarily contribute to School Foundations but I think it is unlikely many would do so in reality. After researching the funding issues and expenditure issues in detail I am of the opinion that our best way forward is to put pressure on the Governor to fully fund QBE and I have written articles about the way everyone can help effect that. State funding from Georgia is the best solution to the crisis especially as it is technically illegal for Georgia to underfund QBE the way it has been doing.
Chris Simpkins December 15, 2013 at 12:15 PM
Nice post, but a tax exemption is not an entitlement and this error distracts from the rest of your arguments. Personally I'm more upset with Cobb's arrogant, out of touch, crony capitalist government. Soon school funding will be squeezed even further when our property taxes begin paying for Tim Lee's Braves stadium. Between that and the ridiculous (un)balanced school calendar I'm considering moving out of Cobb county.


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