School boards approve constitutional amendment assigning online sales tax – The Hartselle Enquirer

By Wes Tomlinson

For the applicant

Morgan County’s three public school boards have all approved a proposed constitutional amendment, expected to be voted on in November, that adds permanence to a 2019 local law redirecting most online sales tax revenue from the county commission to the school districts.

On Wednesday, the Decatur City Schools Board passed a resolution endorsing the amendment, which applies only to Morgan County. School boards in Hartselle City and Morgan County passed similar resolutions earlier this month.

State Superintendent Eric Mackey said he would like to see a version of Morgan County’s online sales tax allocation implemented statewide.

State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, sponsored both the 2019 local law requiring the county commission to allocate most online tax revenue to school districts and the bill allowing a vote at the county-wide on an identical constitutional amendment passed by the Legislature on March 2.

State law allocates a portion of online sales taxes to county commissions. Under Orr’s 2019 law and proposed constitutional amendment, the Morgan County Commission keeps 5% of the revenue it would otherwise receive. It demands that the commission send 85% of the remaining funds to the county’s three public school systems, to be distributed proportionately based on enrollment. Another 1.5% goes to volunteer firefighters and 13.5% to Morgan County schools.

“Sales tax has always been paid to schools,” Decatur Superintendent Michael Douglas said Wednesday. “When online sales started to explode, more and more bricks and mortar (businesses) closed.”

Orr said the superintendents requested that the 2019 law be put on the ballot as a local constitutional amendment so that it would be less vulnerable to future legislative action and could only be changed by a subsequent constitutional amendment. . Even if the amendment does not garner voter approval, the 2019 law would remain in effect.

Douglas said the law and the proposed amendment provide local school districts with some protection against a faltering economy.

“You’re going to see a lot of school districts outside of Morgan County really struggling, and you’re going to see revenue go down because more and more people are shopping online,” Douglas said.

The amendment will not result in a tax increase – a fact underlined in each of the school board resolutions.

NO OPPOSITION PLANNED

Morgan County Commission Chairman Ray Long said he has no plans to dissuade residents from voting for the constitutional amendment.

“It doesn’t change anything,” Long said. “It’s just about making (the 2019 law) a constitutional amendment. It does not affect the county commission one way or another.

The local law went into effect on October 1, 2019, but the Morgan County Commission did not initially pass a resolution on its agenda to redirect sales tax revenue online as required by law. All three school districts filed suit.

The commission fought the lawsuit, but the state Supreme Court ruled that the legislature had the power to order the county commission to redirect the online sales tax revenue it received.

Long said he disagreed with the 2019 law because it names Morgan County the only county in the state to lose sales tax funds online, but he said that he supported county school districts.

“(The bill) passed and the courts decided it was legal,” Long said. “We follow the laws, so we have no complaints. We don’t even try to rehash it.

The Decatur and Morgan County school systems have been using online sales tax funds since 2019 to expand instruction in their classrooms.

“We have hired responders to help with remedial education,” Morgan County School Board Vice Chairman John Holley said. “With sales tax money, we try to fund locally the placement of an interventionist in each school, from kindergarten through third grade.”

Holley said if the constitutional amendment is defeated in November, her school district could suffer if future lawmakers change or repeal the 2019 law.

“We’re going to start losing course units and other resources because we just won’t have those funds available,” Holley said.

Douglas said online sales tax funds are included in the school district’s general fund.

“We’ve used (line sales tax revenue) from hiring new teachers to improving capital assets,” Douglas said. “It helps us make payment on things like the new Career Tech building.”

Hartselle Superintendent Dr. Dee Dee Jones said that since 2019 her district has been able to fund the construction of a new elementary school with online sales tax funds.

“It allows us to continue the programs we have in place, and these funds also help us build a new Crestline Elementary,” Jones said. “It won’t fund all of that, but it helps support that.

“The way I see it, it’s just a way for the future of all three (Morgan County) school districts to continue to fund their programs.”

Jones said she plans to meet with Douglas and Morgan County Superintendent Robert Elliott Jr. this month to discuss the proposed amendment.

Online sales tax revenue going to the county and redirected to schools and volunteer firefighters has grown steadily since 2019. 2021 revenue was

$604,657 more than 2020 revenue. Online sales tax revenue payment this month was $238,388, up from $204,654 paid in March 2021.

Mackey said he would like to see a statewide law that allocates that revenue to all school districts.

“From my perspective, we need to keep the schools and their benefits foremost in our minds,” Mackey said. “I think it’s only fair that we find a statewide solution so that the local school gets a portion of the local distribution (online sales tax), just like they would if someone one was going to a physical store.”


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David A. Albanese