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Upon further review

SoVaNow.com / September 12, 2019
Remember a few months back, when it was humbly suggested in this space that Del. James Edmunds ought to have a statue erected in his honor for pushing the Halifax County sales tax referendum through the General Assembly?

Yeah, about that ….

Here’s our delegate, writing this week in response to a Facebook friend with doubts about raising the sales tax by a penny to pay for an upgraded Halifax County High School:

“… the only way we can pay for it will be to vote for the sales tax increase of 1%. (That’s adding 10 cents to every $10 purchase and it is not on groceries or medication). The beauty of the sales tax is everyone contributes! Dope dealers, out of town travelers, etc! The sales tax is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get a school with no increase in real estate taxes and Halifax County is the only County to be able to do it in the State!”

Oh my.

Where to begin with this?

“The beauty of the sales tax is everyone contributes! Dope dealers, out of town travelers, etc!” Edmunds opines. Um, maybe I’m wrong about this, but judging from all the county homes that officers with the Drug Task Force are raiding nowadays, it would seem that dope dealers are paying property taxes, too. Maybe if we tacked an extra tax onto guns, drug dealers could pay that too?

I will admit to being a tad annoyed whenever politicians, usually the Republican variety, make the act of paying taxes sound like something only seedy people should be expected to do. Make the drug dealers pay for it, dammit! To be fair, it’s perfectly smart and reasonable to repeat often and loudly Edmunds’ other point: that out-of-towners will kick in a share of the money raised from the sales tax, which in turn will go towards financing the high school. Something for nothing — hello and goodbye, traveling WalMart shopper, come again soon! — is an irresistible pitch, and advocates of the sales tax are right to make it at every opportunity.

What they shouldn’t do, however, is suggest that the sales tax alone can pay to build a new school (or renovate the one we have, for that matter.) Our delegate’s claim that a local sales tax represents “a once in a lifetime opportunity to get a school with no increase in real estate taxes” is just epically wrong. There is no math that takes us from (let’s hope) passage of the sales tax referendum to the construction of a new school without at least some accompanying real estate tax hike. None.

Edmunds is a state delegate, not a county supervisor, his previous job, so some obliviousness towards the hard cold facts is probably to be expected when it comes to conversations on the high school. And again, not exactly to be fair here, but at least to balance out the scales somewhat, our delegate’s overly optimistic take stands in contrast to unwarranted moaning and groaning about the allegedly exorbitant cost of a new high school from the usual do-nothing, anti-tax crowd. It took guts for Edmunds to suggest a sales tax hike to pay for school capital needs, even if his bill stipulated that voters would first have to approve. In the upside-down world of right-wing conservative politics, this counts as bravery of the first order.

Let’s further note here that Edmunds is hardly alone in serving up ill-informed, loose talk about top issue on the November ballot. County supervisor J.T. Davis has been especially bad about high-balling the tax implications of fixing our high school problem. Davis’ estimates of the real estate tax hit keep shifting around, and they depend on various scenarios which may or may not play out, but the overall effect is to make it sound like paying for a new high school will be a lot more painful than the reality, especially if the sales tax referendum passes.

Look: nothing in life is free. Everyone gets that the high school will be an expensive proposition. But it bears no comparison to the cock-up that is the Courthouse Renovation Project, and no serious person disputes that we have a major problem on our hands with our disco-era dump of a high school. (As evidence, I give you the independent assessments of two professional engineering/architectural firms, one paid by the School Board, the other by the Board of Supervisors, each of which offered a withering assessment of our current facility. And yes, you could almost see the blood draining from the faces of supervisors who hoped to fix HCHS on the cheap as they listened to their architect saying it can’t be done.) Returning to the subject of James Edmunds’ Facebook post, our delegate prefaces his comments about the sales tax by endorsing the construction of a new school facility to replace HCHS. So there’s hope for the young man yet.

Let’s just be real about the costs involved. The sales tax is a good way to spread the burden around, and if the referendum fails, we’ll rue the day because sooner or later the problems at HCHS will become impossible to ignore. At that point J.T. Davis’ dark warnings about a nearly 30-cent property tax increase will become absolutely true. Pay me now or pay me lots more later. It was a good TV commercial, and all very much true.

***

One day in this space I’m going to create a weekly list of news stories everyone ought to check out if they want to better understand what’s going on in the world. (No links to Fox News, sorry.) Brexit! Climate change! White nationalism! The Squad! Sharpies! There’s so much screwy business afoot in the world, journalists need the fortitude of Melville to tell it all.

Here’s a juicy reading assignment, though, that stands out for the semi-local connection: Politico Magazine published a blockbuster story this week on Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, written by a Liberty graduate, Brandon Ambrosino, who harbors plain affection for Jerry Falwell Sr., the late founder of Liberty and the Moral Majority. Let’s just say the Falwells’ sense of morality ain’t what it used to be, if the Politico account is to be believed (and reading through it, it sounds very believable.)

The short story: Liberty University is a real estate hedge fund dressed up as a college, controlled by a dictatorial boss with a penchant for corrupt self-dealing and bragging about conjugal relations with his wife. It’s all very weird and potty-brained, and Ambrosino found photos that demolish Falwell’s denials of having engaged in conduct that will get your average Liberty student expelled from the campus. Yet hypocrisy may be the least of Falwell Jr.’s moral failings, as detailed by Politico's correspondent.

But go see for yourself, and buckle in for quite a read.

Liberty is close enough to count as a local story, but there’s another piece of recent news at the university that has been largely overlooked: our former congressman, Robert Hurt, has gone to work there as dean of Liberty’s Helms School of Government. Given the description of Falwell Jr. in the Politico piece as a cruel and controlling tyrant, I’d say Hurt has made the perfect choice of a career after Congress. Let’s just say his stint in Washington showed that our former congressman has few peers when it comes to keeping his head down and doing nothing. It should be great experience for his new position.





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