Open Letter to Gilbert Voters: When Government Expands, Freedom is Lost

by Jeff Smith
LD12 Precinct Committeeman

I’ve heard the most potent arguments in favor of the tax increase known as the “override” and, as a conservative, I’m not at all convinced. 

Last November the voters of this community resoundingly defeated the override.  Now the school board has decided we all need another bite at the apple, although this time in an off-cycle election that will cost the taxpayers $328,000. 

While the rest of us have seen our home values and incomes reduced in recent years, and made commensurate cuts to our household budgets, the board has voted to give raises and is now asking for another tax increase, in an effort to completely insulate the school district from any of the negative economic effects the rest of us are dealing with.

We’re told that there’s no “hidden pot of money.”  Assuming that’s true, it’s most likely due to inefficiency, waste, and corruption.  The fact is, growth of per pupil spending in GPS has dramatically outpaced inflation over the last 11 years, even as the % of dollars spent in the classroom has decreased.  The district has had additional override funds at its disposal for the last 5 years, so if there’s no rainy day fund, it isn’t due to a lack of funding from the taxpayers.  The lack of reserves speaks more to mismanagement of the budget than it does to any dire need for higher taxes. 

Conservatives know that every department and agency at every level of government can, and does, spend every penny of budget every year, to demonstrate the “need” for that agency, and that it is, in fact, “underfunded.”  Yet who among us takes this as evidence these agencies are run efficiently?  What’s more, they will never become efficient as long as we grant additional override dollars year after year. 

We who oppose this override – including several who worked to successfully defeat the Gilbert sales tax increase known as Prop. 406 – have also looked at the numbers, and have, in fact, identified areas for potential cuts.  Certain categories of non-classroom spending have grown disproportionately over the last several years, far out of line with the growth in the number of students in the district.  Bringing those areas back in line with that growth would almost single-handedly obviate the need for an override! 

This brings me to the coming implementation of zero-based budgeting (ZBB). I welcome it and am excited to see what it yields.  Of course, the primary purpose of zero-based budgeting is to root out endemic waste and avoid the need for budget overrides in the first place!  The idea that we should “reward” the district now with more override dollars, based on the promise of implementing ZBB in the future, is absurd, and defeats the purpose entirely. 

Regarding the funding of our schools, localities already can, and do, provide additional funds above and beyond the equalized amounts they receive from the state through variations in the primary tax rate, which, incidentally, this board voted to increase earlier this year.  An override is just the extra “whipped cream” piled on top, used to fund pet projects and grease the palms of the administration’s cronies who have made a comfortable living feeding at the public trough. 

Conservatives know the appetite of any government agency – even one whose mission is as noble as that of the public schools – is truly insatiable.  There is no amount of money we can give them that will ever satisfy.  There will always be one more program to fund, one more building to build, one more administrator to hire, one more raise to give, and on and on and on.  But when government expands, freedom is lost. 

Government can, and should, live within it means, just like the rest of us have to.  None of us who work and pay the taxes that fund the schools have the luxury of going to our bosses with a wish list of expenses and demanding a 6.6% pay raise, for the next 7 years, because our current salary just won’t quite cover everything we want to buy.  If you’re able to do that, I want to work where you work!