State Journal: Reform tax; Fee feud

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Some Kentucky education observers fear that some 70,000 taxpayers may have been soured on the idea of education reform by Louisville tax officials, who mailed property-tax notices with the message that values were being adjusted in the name of reform.

"Kentucky Education Reform Act mandates property be assessed at 100 percent fair market value,'' the notice said. Education officials rankled by the notices sent by the Jefferson County property-valuation administrator said the words were true but misleading.

State law had previously required valuation at between 90 percent and 110 percent of market value. But officials said the state constitution mandates market-value assessments, and that the reform law merely codified that.

Some state lawmakers claimed that locally elected property-valuation officials were eager to shift any blame for higher taxes, and they decried the possibility that bad feelings might transfer to the oft-maligned reform law.

A member of the Partnership for Kentucky School Reform called the move "another nail in the coffin'' that opponents are trying to create for the 1990 law, which altered school instruction, funding, and governance.

State education task forces come and go like spring flowers, but they almost never wield the power needed to turn their white papers into policy.

Consider the Utah Department of Education's School Fees Task Force. Set up in 1992, the group of about 30 educators, advocates, and parents was to suggest reforms in the state's controversial school-fees system, under which secondary school students are charged for textbooks and participation in labs, band, and other activities.

A court that year had ruled that the system, which raises some $15.5 million per year, was inequitable. Poor children could get the fees waived, but middle-class parents were getting squeezed.

After a year of work, the task force proposed replacing the $3.5 million schools collect in textbook charges with state funds. Since the state has a budget surplus, that seemed reasonable to many Utahans.

"We're rolling in dough,'' explained Laurie Chivers, the deputy superintendent for public instruction.

But state legislators balked, opting instead to trim property and sales taxes. The task force disbanded in protest.--LONNIE HARP & DREW LINDSAY

Vol. 13, Issue 27

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