Tax-Hike Advocates Keep Their Money

Published February 1, 2008

People who urge local governments to dig deeper into taxpayers’ pocketbooks are unwilling to part with their own cash voluntarily, according to a new report from the John Locke Foundation.

“The reality is that you can donate as much money as you wish to your county government and school system. This report highlights one major county in which few people take advantage of that option,” said report author Joseph Coletti, a fiscal policy analyst for the foundation.

Coletti studied voluntary gifts to local governments in Wake County, North Carolina and issued “Leading By Not Doing: Few counties and school districts receive donations, even from pro-tax residents” last November.

“People can offer cash or in-kind contributions in the same way they make other charitable contributions, according to what they believe is the best use of their money,” Coletti said. “One would presume that the people who use the most lung power to argue for more government or education funding are also willing to devote more of their own resources to those goals.”

Few Walk the Talk

Coletti tested that theory by examining donation patterns in Wake County, which has a vocal base of public education advocates. In a 2005 poll of Wake County residents, 49 percent said they would be willing to pay higher taxes for more public school teachers and smaller class sizes.

North Carolina state government does not accept donations. If the potential donor already has paid his tax bill, the state will refund the money.

Local schools and county governments have no such restrictions, however. Taxpayers are free to spend as much money as they choose to support public schools and county services.

“I was shocked–shocked!–to learn that Wake County schools and the county government have received little in voluntary contributions for their budgets,” Coletti said.

“Since May 2003, the school system has tracked less than $2.4 million in donations,” Coletti said. “That’s just 0.1 percent of one year’s spending in a district that has a $1.1 billion operating budget and a $900 million voter-approved building program. Eighty-eight percent of the donations headed to individual schools, often for particular programs. Very few donations target a generic goal of improving education.”

County Gets Even Less

Donations to Wake’s county government made up an even smaller slice of total county spending, Coletti said. Most voluntary contributions targeted the sheriff’s K-9 unit or the emergency medical system.

“Many people who urge more taxation and more government spending seem to have a disconnect between what they claim as their public priorities and what they actually follow in their private resource allocations,” Coletti said.

Coletti explained, “Any time a family saves money, goes to a movie, or takes a vacation, it’s placing a higher priority on those options than on donating money to schools or local government services.”

Coletti said until most of those who call for higher taxes start paying them voluntarily, “they have no right to demand that their neighbors, who may have different values and priorities, be compelled to have more money taken away from them.”

Mitch Kokai ([email protected]) is director of communications at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, North Carolina.

For more information …

“Leading By Not Doing: Few counties and school districts receive donations, even from pro-tax residents,” by Joseph Coletti: