Skip to comments.Elected Libertarian brings change to county politics
Posted on 04/18/2005 11:29:00 AM PDT by freepatriot32
Libertarian Ben Brandon was recently elected to the position of county executive in Dade County, Ga., running on a platform whose primary plank was a promise to eliminate school taxes for people aged 65 and over.
He is keeping his promise -- and that's just a start.
"As I was going around last year getting signatures to get on the ballot, I would ask people what was on their minds," Brandon explains. "The older people complained that their property taxes were too high. Many of them are living on fixed incomes and can't afford the taxes -- and most of their tax is for schools."
Brandon did his research, discovered that several other counties in the state have already removed senior citizens from the property tax rolls for school purposes, and promised to help out the older people in his community.
With this and Brandon's other promises (and qualifications) in mind, the voters of Dade County elected him to office with 66 percent of the runoff vote on Nov. 23, 2004, rejecting the Republican who was seeking the position. Brandon had received 33 percent in the regular election votes, less than the Republican's 40 percent but enough to beat the Democrat, who received 26 percent support.
It was the first partisan election any minor party had won in Georgia since 1968, when George Wallace's American Party carried the state in the presidential election.
But you can be sure the people of Dade County are pleased with their decision: Many of them will likely significantly lower tax bills in coming years.
"I discovered that if you took the senior citizens completely off the property tax rolls for schools, it would only cost the school system $128,000 per year," Brandon said. "Of course, there is an income limit. Those exempted from school taxes can't have earned income of more than $10,000 annually."
Although Brandon has done his part, it's not yet a done deal.
After being elected, Brandon contacted his state representative, Martin Scott, who drafted the legislation to exempt senior citizens from this part of their property taxes. The legislation was approved by the state Senate and House in March, and is expected soon to be signed by the governor.
After that, the final decision will return to the voters in Dade County, who will vote in a local referendum on the question in September, Brandon explained -- noting that he doesn't expect much opposition to the proposal.
Some people complained it's not fair to cut taxes for only one subset of the taxpaying public while leaving other people's taxes at a higher level. The assumption is that the people whose taxes will be cut benefited from the area's public schools when they had children in school, so they should continue paying taxes now.
This assumption is wrong, Brandon opined.
"At the time they had students in school, they were paying property taxes," he said. "At some point, you need to give people a break. And if you listen to the statists, there is no good time to cut taxes.
"The problem with education, with government schools, isn't that we tax too little, but that they spend too much. They just need to sharpen their pencils a little more at budget time and get more efficient, rather than continuing to come back to the well and asking taxpayers to pay more and more, without any accountability."
Brandon is also asking other county officials to consider prohibiting students from outside Dade County to attend the county's public schools -- unless they pay tuition.
"Our estimate is that about 10 percent of the students in Dade County don't live in the county," he said. "We spend a lot to educate kids who don't even live in this state. I want to make sure we're not educating students from other areas on this county's taxpayer money."
Brandon said he is "good friends with several members of the Dade County school board," and they're in favor of taking the senior citizens off the tax rolls -- especially seeing that they'll be able to recoup the lost revenue by requiring out-of-state (and out-of-county) students to pay tuition to attend school there.
"At least if the students' parents live in Georgia, they're paying the state income tax from which we get $4,000 per student, so their tuition would be $2,000 if they want to continue attending Dade County schools," Brandon said. "For those who live outside the state, the tuition would be $6,000 per year."
Besides school funding issues, Brandon has also begun cleaning house in the county's tax appraiser office -- a process that actually began before he was elected as county executive.
"Last year I discovered that about 80 percent of the tax bills that went out were incorrect, and that about 90 percent of those that were wrong were on the high side," he said. "It appears that the chief appraiser -- who resigned after I pointed this out -- had been pushing up the value of homes year after year" rather than allowing them to depreciate.
For about two years before he was elected, Brandon wrote a weekly column called the "North Georgia Libertarian" for the Dade County Sentinel newspaper. In May 2004 he wrote a column pointing out the problems with the appraiser's office, then left for a missions trip to Africa.
"When I returned from Tanzania 10 days later, I found out that the county commission had called for an audit of that office," Brandon said. "The next week the entire office resigned, right down to the secretary."
In January, after taking office, Brandon convinced the other county officials to hire a private firm to correct all of the county's tax appraiser errors -- just one more way he is trying to save money for the taxpayers.
"I'm promising to fix the tax digest so that when you get a tax bill, you have a good reason to believe it's actually right," he said. "And then we'll keep down spending so we can keep taxes down."
When Brandon was writing his "North Georgia Libertarian" column, he focused primarily on "the stupid things politicians do," he said.
So what does he write about, under the new title "The Commissioner's Corner," since he is now a politician?
Pretty much the same thing, actually.
"I can sometimes use it as a way to outmaneuver the Democrats on the commission," Brandon said, noting that there are three Democrats, one Republican and one Libertarian (himself) on the county commission. "If I want to do something that the Democrats will likely oppose, I'll write something about it and get public support before it goes to a vote," he said. "Usually, the Republican votes with me."
All these changes proposed or already enacted, and Brandon has been in office for only about four months on a four-year term.
"Well, this year we're going to be under budget on expenses and over budget on revenue, so I'm hoping to put some money aside for an emergency fund, and then come up with some policies governing how that money is spent," Brandon said.
"Dade County has no financial policies governing spending. There are no guidelines for what constitutes emergency spending. In the past, if the commission wanted to spend money on something, they could just spend the money without considering whether it was an appropriate expenditure.
"I'm trying to change that."
The minor parties need to start small and work itself way up before it becomes a serious contendor..
Dade county resident speaking here:
Ben is catching flak from a host of "good old boys and girls" who do not want their little bits of "turf" disturbed. Some still want to do things the old way, sort of "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" mentality.
making special interest group exempt from certain taxes is a recept for confusion. Taxes should be as low and a broadbased as possible so they don't mess with the economy. Well run school benifit everyone - who's going to doctor these old folks - who's going to build the bridges these retires drive on, prepare the food they eat. States have seen and decided that education and training can benifit all, not just the person being trained or educationed. Old people should not be exempted.
I agree. I'm sure they were happy to receive the support of older Americans when they were younger, and they should be willing to pay their FAIR share now. We can dispute what constitutes fair, and I'm all for helping out those who are on a fixed income, but it's absolute b.s. to suggest that you get exempted from taxes once you hit 65.
Pretty hypocritical being that it's the parents of those school children who are paying for the eldsters social security.
So an oldster who has 50 grandkids pays nothing? In the name of fairness?
Only a fool, would want to withold education from those very people, the kids, who will soon be paying the old folks social security benefits, directly from their payroll checks, from whatever job the 'uneducated' can qualify for.
72 year old refuses to pay for the education needed to get the up and coming 16 year old, FUTURE Social Security payor, a decent job... then when same jerk is 75 and wants higher prescription benefits, will want to raise taxes on that 19 year old, to pay for it out of his or her paycheck.
If the old farts don't want to pay for the children's education... then the young bucks should start refusing to pay or find legit ways to avoid paying ANY social security nationwide.
The older folks retiring today are the most selfish demographic on the face of the planet. They elect folks who spend massively on social programs, then want somebody else to pay their way. These folks are NOT the WW2 generation, but the leading edge of their children... "me me me" firsters.
Good to know someone has some sense about this matter. I'm sick of everyone over 65 being catered to. Yes, those on "fixed incomes" (as if you can't be rich while living on a fixed income) should get some help, but why should I pay full price for groceries while the 65 year old millionaire down the street gets 20% off on "senior day?" Argh!
When they say all politics is local this is what they mean. Those who involve themselves in politics eventually, or right away for some, learn that there are many opportunities for personal gain in "public service". Because it has to be kept concealed from the voters they become known as a cabal of good ole boys as they must just deal among themselves, partners in crime.
However, not every politician succumbs to temptation. Occasionally a new one comes along to challenge the status quo. It has nothing to do with party, although the ingrained parties are likely to be the ones involved in the cabals, it has to do with trying to do what is right and having the guts to say so and trust the people.
A Republican or Democrat saying the same as this Libertarian may have easily reached the same result. He defeated those from each party but no one was saying what he was. His only advantage was not having to fight for the support of his party.
Bottom line is that morals and guts trumps party, most of the time.
"Only a fool, would want to withold education from those very people, the kids, who will soon be paying the old folks social security benefits...." - eccl1212
You sound like a communist and/or a public school teacher.
Here are two revolutionary thoughts: (1) let parents pay for the education of the children they've produced and (2) let old people pay for the retirement they're enjoying.
I hate their open borders stand.
Oh de horrors of it!
We should, but don't, emulate the Amish in this regard.
Why not? They aren't his kids. Let everyone pay their own way for their own kids education ... and retirement.
Good luck on that.
You are confusing money for education. Doubling the amount spent on that school district would not improve its performance. Education is a self-motivated, or parents motivated, kind of thing.
You blast the old folks for being selfish, and in many cases you are right, but you are looking at it from one perspective, that of youth. Another equally valid point of view is if the children would take care of their parents once the parents got old, as they used to do, then SS wouldn't even be necessary.
Usually, though, the old folks have provided for the young folks all their lives and when they no longer can, the young folks are demanding it from government. Take care of those old folks, I don't want to. And by the way, don't charge me for it, they have already paid for it themselves. Besides, I need another car and a new sound system but I can't pay for those and health insurance too, so either the government or my company should provide it for me.
Which is the selfish view? Both are of course, it is just a matter of perespective.
You don't see that phrase everyday.
Why doesn't he push for Charter schools? I'm not particularly thrilled with the idea of elderly exemptions....
You may be right. According to the Census, the over 65 crowd is the group with the highest net worth. Why should I pay social security to a crowd that has more money than I do?
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