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Opinion: Supporting President Biden’s Jobs Plans Means Supporting Schools

Gaynell Hendricks poses against an AKA Sorority artwork at her house in Birmingham. Photo by Marvin Gentry for the Birmingham Times.

By Gaynell Hendricks

I support President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan. This plan, as constituted, makes some investments in three areas that directly affect schools. Yes, I said SCHOOLS …

The American Jobs Plan:

  • Helps the American people by providing decent wages for middle class Americans and getting them back to work
  • Allows for improvements in the transportation infrastructure in all communities
  • Provides redress for historical inequities and builds the future of the nation’s transportation infrastructure

Let us examine these investments and see how each one will help schools. In the South, in my husband Elias Hendricks’s home state of Alabama, I serve as Tax Assessor for Jefferson County, the largest county in the state, which includes, at present, the largest city in the state—Birmingham. My responsibility is to assess ad valorem taxes for 420,000 Real and Business Personal properties. Ad valorem taxes make up 30 percent of the county’s revenue and 85 percent of the county and city schools’ revenue. The other portion of that is covered by a mix of local sales tax, as well as federal and state taxes. Paying a decent wage allows the local jurisdiction to collect sales tax for everything from car purchases to groceries. The sales tax is often split in the local municipality between city municipal funds and city schools.

Infrastructure improvement of any type requires an investment in heavy equipment. The ad valorem taxes from this investment, in particular, will be split by Alabama state statues between the County General Fund and County Schools.

Redressing historical inequities, in many states in the South and particularly in Birmingham, generally involves the highway system, which was used as a dividing line. Sadly, the placement of these lines was racially motivated and, thus, has plagued the affected communities for years through redlining and under terms that strangled these areas economically. Well, guess what? IT WORKED. Home values in these communities plummeted and, as a result, so did the amount of ad valorem taxes. This tax led to a court battle on how schools are funded in the South—wealthy areas get more money because of home values, which leaves poor and rural communities underfunded. So, the state of Alabama won again because it relies mostly on ad valorem taxes to fund school systems. Addressing this issue will allow for values to rebound by way increasing taxes for YES SCHOOLS!!!

Gaynell Hendricks is the Jefferson County Tax Assessor in Alabama.