Property Taxes and Government Schools

By Brian Massie, A Watchman on the Wall

We would like to thank one of our readers for provided us with some insight to the property tax issue in Lake County.

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I watched the video of the Jan. 31, 2024 meeting on property taxes.  Excellent presentation, very informative.  I have some comments on these issues.

1.  Challenging property values with the Board of Revision.  I did this in 2009, with success.  Note that you can appeal a decision of the Board of Revision to either the county common pleas court, or to the Board of Tax Appeals (BTA) in Columbus.   I would recommend the BTA, for the following reasons:

– there is probably a significant filing fee in the court.  A BTA appeal is free.

– filing in court gives your opponents the home field advantage.  The judges are feeding at the tax trough, and are probably pals with the prosecutors.  Most of the judges worked in the prosecutor’s office before being elected to the bench.

– If there are any in-person hearings, for court the prosecutor only has to walk to the court house.  With the BTA, they will have to travel to Columbus. and may have to stay overnight.  Which costs them money.

It is a principle of lawfare that you should always choose a venue that is difficult, expensive, and unfamiliar to your opponents.   They were quite willing to settle with me, in 2009. Three years later, when the auditor’s office (or their contractor)  tried to increase my property value, a BTA case number caused them to back off, in the informal review.

I think the auditor’s office and their contractors play a game with the property values, arbitrarily jacking them up, hoping that most people won’t challenge it.   Probably most people don’t?

2.   Property taxes are the cruelest, most regressive and anachronistic taxes of all.

They are cruel, in that they are extortion.  Pay up or the treasurer auctions off your house.  And, unlike a sale involving a civil judgment, there is no exempt amount that the property owner gets to keep.

They are regressive, in that there is no relationship to the owner’s ability to pay.

And they are anachronistic on two levels.  First, maybe property taxes made sense when only wealthy people owned land, and in an agricultural society, were able to earn a living from the land.  That is not the case today.

Second, they are a remnant of feudalism, when all land belonged to the king, who could take the land back if the nobles didn’t pay enough tribute.   We haven’t had a king in this country since the American revolution, but unfortunately we kept a number of customs and laws from the days of the monarchy.

 I have read that even the term “real estate” really means royal estate.  For comparison, consider the Canadian city Montreal, which means Mount Royal in French, and El Camino Real, which means the Royal Road or the King’s Highway in Spanish.  Real means royal.  If we no longer have royalty in the US, then we shouldn’t have real estate taxes either.  Property owners should be the absolute owners of their land, and should not have to pay rent or tribute to the government.

3. Public (government) schools

One positive aspect of the COVID pandemic was the closure of the schools and the use of remote, online learning.  This proved that all the school infrastructure, the buildings, buses, administration, etc., is not needed.  It would be cheaper to provide each child with a laptop and an internet connection, and an online curriculum.

Here is another way to cut costs.  If “society” owes anything to the next generation, in terms of formal education, it should be limited to the basics.  The 3Rs, with some introductory history and science.  Once students have the basics mastered, they can learn anything else they want to, driven by their natural curiosity.  Those who want to learn more will.  Those who don’t, won’t, no matter how long they stay in school or how much effort is made to get them to learn.  From what I saw in school, kids who are forced to be there, when they don’t want to be there, will only make life miserable for everyone else.

How about making the public schools a means-tested program?  It is not unreasonable to expect parents to contribute to the education of their children, either by payment or by homeschooling.  Parents are expected to pay for their kids’ food, clothing, housing and medical care.  Why not education as well?   The problem is that generations of people have been conditioned to believe that educating their children is not their responsibility, it’s the government’s job.

Conservatives love to bash welfare programs and vilify their recipients.  But they are strangely silent when it comes to the oldest, largest welfare program of all:  the public schools.  Perhaps because they benefit from this program?  In areas like Lake County, the public schools are largely a subsidy for the middle class, at the expense of the poor.

What about parents who can’t afford it?  Vouchers are the answer.  A useful example is the SNAP/food stamp program.  Note that, to help poor people buy food, the government DID NOT establish a network of tax-funded, government-run grocery stores.  Instead, through the SNAP program, poor people receive vouchers (at first, paper, now EBT cards) to use at stores in the private sector.   Why can’t education work the same way?

I personally believe the answer is to separate school from state.  Terminate all government involvement with education.  Educating children is a service, like car repair.  The government has no business having a near-monopoly on it, which is the reason for the burdensome property taxes.  Unless . . . the real goal is not learning, but indoctrination?  It is instructive that repressive, totalitarian regimes, such as the Nazis and the Soviets, placed a great emphasis on indoctrinating children.

And, an anecdote.    I recall a news article in the 1980s about an Amish man who left their community and wanted to join the Coast Guard.  But to join the Coast Guard, you have to have a high school diploma or equivalent, and the Amish only go to the 8th grade.  So he took the GED exam and passed it, WITHOUT studying.

This tells us that the Amish learn as much in 8 years as kids in government schools learn in 12, and at much lower cost.  My understanding is that Amish schools operate much like the old one-room schoolhouses.

All of the government schools’  bloated bureaucracy is unnecessary, the buildings and buses, the multiple levels of administrators with their six-figure salaries, all of it.

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