RALEIGH – People who urge local governments to dig deeper into taxpayers’ pocketbooks seem unwilling to part with their own cash voluntarily. That’s the key conclusion in a new John Locke Foundation Spotlight report.
“The reality is that you can donate as much money as you wish to your county government and school system,” said report author Joseph Coletti, JLF Fiscal Policy Analyst. “This report highlights one major county in which few people take advantage of that option. Until they do, they have no right to demand that their neighbors, who may have different values and priorities, be compelled to have more money taken away from them.”
North Carolina state government does not accept donations, Coletti said. Checks written to the state count as tax revenue. If the potential donor already has paid his tax bill, the state will refund the money. “When I tried to make a donation, the Treasurer’s Office, Controller’s Office, and Department of Revenue said they had never had offers from individuals or companies to contribute voluntarily to the state’s funding needs.”
Local schools and county governments have no such restrictions, Coletti said. Taxpayers who value school and county services are free to spend as much money as they choose to support those services. “People can offer cash or in-kind operations in the same way they make other charitable contributions, according to what they believe is the best use of their money,” he said. “One would presume that the people who use the most lung power to argue for more government or education funding are also willing to devote more of their own resources to those goals.”
Coletti tested that theory by examining donation patterns in Wake County, which has a vocal base of public education advocates. “I was shocked — shocked! — to learn that Wake County schools and the county government have received little in voluntary contributions for their budgets.”
“Since May 2003, the school system has tracked less than $2.4 million in donations,” Coletti said. “That’s just 0.1 percent of one year’s spending in a district that has a $1.1 billion operating budget and a $900 million voter-approved building program. Eighty-eight percent of the donations headed to individual schools, often for particular programs. Very few donations target a generic goal of improving education.”
Donations to Wake’s county government made up an even smaller chunk of total county spending, Coletti said. Most voluntary contributions targeted the sheriff’s K-9 unit or the emergency medical system.
“Many people who urge more taxation and more government spending seem to have a disconnect between what they claim as their public priorities and what they actually follow in their private resource allocations,” Coletti said. “Any time a family saves money, goes to a movie, or takes a vacation, it’s placing a higher priority on those options than on donating money to schools or local government services.”
County governments and local school systems could do more to encourage donations, Coletti said. “Public school systems could take a page from universities and private schools with capital campaigns and annual giving campaigns to supplement public funding,” he said. “They could do more to tap their alumni for donations. County governments also could take a look at K-9 units and EMS to find fund-raising ideas that might help schools.”
“In the end, if they want to receive the money their advocates say they need, county governments and public school systems will have to prove that they can use their money as effectively as private for-profit and non-profit organizations.
Joseph Coletti’s Spotlight report, “Leading By Not Doing: Few counties and school districts receive donations, even from pro-tax residents,” is available at the JLF web site. For more information, please contact Coletti at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].