Opinion: Georgia’s Supreme Court swats anti-school choice arguments

Georgia Supreme Court Justice David Nahmias questions an attorney during arguments in the tax credit scholarship case on Jan. 23. Justice Robert Benham (second from left) wrote the opinion tossing out the lawsuit, which was released June 26. (AJC Photo / Bob Andres)

What should have been obvious to all has now been confirmed: Georgia’s tax-credit scholarship program is constitutional. It’s a victory for the 13,000-plus students who attend private schools thanks to the program, and for school choice in general.

The state Supreme Court released its opinion in the case known as Gaddy this morning, and the plaintiffs lost on every count — unanimously. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that similar lawsuits have failed in states from Florida to Arizona, as well as at the U.S. Supreme Court. But it’s worth noting the specific language used in the opinion written by Justice Robert Benham (who was appointed to the court by Gov. Joe Frank Harris and is hardly a right-wing jurist).

As to whether the plaintiffs had standing to sue as taxpayers:

“The notion that a tax credit from state income tax liability decreases the total revenue pool and increases the tax burden on the remaining taxpayers, however, is purely speculative. … Even assuming an adverse effect on the state’s budget, it requires pure speculation that lawmakers will make up any shortfalls in revenue by increasing the plaintiffs’ tax liability. They could just as easily make up shortfalls by reducing the budget. Further, a tax credit that funds a program that encourages attendance at private schools might, in fact, create a tax savings by relieving public schools of the burden of educating the students who chose to attend private schools.” (emphasis added)

As to whether these private transactions amount to public spending in support of religious organizations, just because tax credits are involved:

“The statutes that govern the Program demonstrate that only private funds, and not public revenue, are used. As demonstrated by HB 1133, the Program sets out a scheme by which (1) donations of private funds by private individuals or entities, (2) made to nongovernmental SSOs to be used for scholarships to private schools, whether secular or religious, (3) may be claimed as tax credits by individual and corporate taxpayers. Individuals and corporations chose the SSOs to which they wish to direct contributions; these private SSOs select the student recipients of the scholarships they award; and the students and their parents decide whether to use their scholarships at religious or other private schools. The State controls none of these decisions. Nor does it control the contributed funds or the educational entities that ultimately receive the funds. … The Program does not involve the distribution of public funds out of the State treasury because none of the money involved in the Program ever becomes the property of the State of Georgia.” (emphasis added)

And as to the silliest argument made against the program, that it amounts to state spending because sometimes the state has to refund money withheld from taxpayers to fulfill the credit:

“This argument was rejected by the Arizona Supreme Court in Kotterman, which noted that ‘under such reasoning all taxpayer income could be viewed as belonging to the state because it is subject to taxation by the legislature.’ We agree with that assessment. When the state refunds money for overpayment of taxes, it is not remitting public funds but is returning the taxpayer’s own money.”

You can read the entire opinion here. If you do, you will see that even in its modesty it undercuts most every objection opponents of the tax-credit scholarship program make against it. They don’t have to like the program, but after this case they’re going to have to live with it.

Now for where this issue goes from here: Legislators who have been reluctant to increase the program’s cap from $58 million have just lost another of the flimsy excuses they have cited for standing pat. A bill to increase the cap died in the Senate as the 2017 legislative session drew to a close. It deserves a second life come 2018.

Reader Comments 0

59 comments
Astropig
Astropig

This isn't in any way surprising.Even a cursory glance at the program makes it obvious that the state never obtains control of this money.The detractors try to make the case that this piddling amount ($58 Million) would "save" public education in some undefined way. That's nonsense.If that amount was simply added to the states outlays for education,it would disappear in "administrative overhead" without a trace.It would be entirely wasted,misdirected or stolen.At least this way,the money is actually used to educate students instead of being intercepted on its way to the classroom.The parents that make use of this program will watch it a lot more closely than it would be otherwise.


This doesn't really change the current state of affairs,but I would really like to see an expansion of this program for '18.I'll be watching how my state rep and state senators treat any request for an increase in the scope of this plan.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

McConnell appears to be teeing up a vote on the senate's version of a healthcare bill. While far from perfect it's a ton better than the ACA mess the Democrats created. Will it pass? Questionable but we will soon find out. The travesty is all of those people out there with worthless Obamacare insurance.

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

 “Sixty-four percent of voters said the investigations into President Trump and Russia are hurting the country. Fifty-six percent of voters said it’s time for Congress and the media to move on to other issues, compared to 44 percent who said the focus should stay on Russia.”

In addition, 73% — we’re almost here at three-quarters — said “they’re concerned that the Russia probes have caused Congress to lose focus on the issues important to them. 


Fact.


https://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2017/06/26/public-opinion-could-curtail-the-mueller-led-coup/

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

The far-left libs suffer another defeat and they're whining their osses off. There's more to come.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

I don't understand, if throwing more money at the school system does not fix the problem, then why are we trying to increase the program's cap?

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@bu22 @McGarnagle


Uhh. How did we get on planned parenthood? I was asking about financial contributions to schools (public or private) and whether they actually improve quality?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@McGarnagle Because raising the cap would allow more students to attend other schools outside the problematic school system(s).

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@McGarnagle The school gets the same amount of money - its tuition price - no matter what. So either it's more students or, less likely, more tuition money for the same number of students (so they pay less out of pocket).

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Jay seems to always make the case that tax credits are not money that belongs to the state and don't increase taxes for others. To try pot this assumption just give all taxpayers a 100% tax credit to put towards their choice of previously state provided service.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Kyle_Wingfield @AvgGeorgian

Why?

The notion that a tax credit from state income tax liability decreases the total revenue pool and increases the tax burden on the remaining taxpayers, however, is purely speculative. … Even assuming an adverse effect on the state’s budget, it requires pure speculation that lawmakers will make up any shortfalls in revenue by increasing the plaintiffs’ tax liability. They could just as easily make up shortfalls by reducing the budget.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@AvgGeorgian Now, if you meant to write "Kyle always seems to make the case ..."

If you believe the tax credit scholarship leads to higher taxes for others, kindly point out the tax increase it caused.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

This is all part of the DeVos plan to build "Gods Kingdom" through education.


They have stated as much in the past. 


Much ignorance will follow.



JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Hedley_Lammar

Do you know how foolish that post makes you look?

The issue has been in the courts for a long time, long before Trump and DeVos.

The court makes a legal decision based on law and facts.

Yet you post it's DeVos' plan.

Go to the corner, put on the pointed hat, without your computer.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@JohnnyReb @Hedley_Lammar

The court is guessing because the state legislature made it illegal to divulge specifics about the program. Its just a scam-otherwise they would be showing the numbers and bragging about them.

“The notion that a tax credit from state income tax liability decreases the total revenue pool and increases the tax burden on the remaining taxpayers, however, is purely speculative. … Even assuming an adverse effect on the state’s budget, it requires pure speculation that lawmakers will make up any shortfalls in revenue by increasing the plaintiffs’ tax liability. They could just as easily make up shortfalls by reducing the budget. Further, a tax credit that funds a program that encourages attendance at private schools might, in fact, create a tax savings by relieving public schools of the burden of educating the students who chose to attend private schools.” (emphasis added)

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@AndyManUSA#45 If you can afford private school especially a Christian one where you wont be taught Science then that is your prerogative.


That isnt what this is. 

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

I'm really sick of Liberals constantly stating something is being taken away from poor people, minorities, etc.

There are two factors to keep in mind....

First and foremost, anything they receive is a gift, so stop complaining if the gift is not as large as your bleeding heart desires.

Next, in government-speak, keeping the expenditure flat - meaning spending as much this year as last, is considered a cut since all they know is how to increase.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@JohnnyReb I'm really sick of Liberals constantly stating something is being taken away from poor people, minorities, etc.


Ill bet you are. 

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

@JohnnyReb This is not a smart comment. Here's why.


Why are companies allowed to pay less than the living wage?  The reason why is because healthcare and food subsidies are provided by the government.  Many of the people getting "gifts" are the working poor who go to work every day but are not paid enough to get by.


Why is this the case?  The reason is because food stamps, healthcare, etc are handouts to BUSINESS OWNERS.  If it weren't for the "gifts" that the government provides, many of the companies in business today would be bankrupt.


The system that we have is incredibly complex and we have basically had to sneakily enter a socialist arrangement to make our economy work.  


Finally, if you get a tax credit, you are the one getting a "gift" in this case.  Most adults don't have kids and they pay taxes to pay for schools.  Many of these schools wouldn't exist if not for the credit, so they are, in fact, being subsidized by other taxpayers. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

In Georgia, taxpayers who want to help low-income students afford private school tuition are enticed by more than just an appeal to their good will. On its website, Whitefield Academy, a “Christ-centered” preparatory school in the suburbs west of Atlanta, tells donors, “You actually stand to make money on this program.”


https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/17/us/politics/in-some-states-donating-to-private-schools-can-earn-you-a-profit.html


These same folks cant wait to take healthcare away from the poor, elderly, and poor kids.


Why ? So rich folks can be a little bit richer.


Have they no shame ?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

Hedley, we've been through this a million times regarding that 2012 NYT article. It is long since outpaced by changes to the law. If you have another, currently relevant point to make, by all means make it.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@AvgGeorgian @Hedley_Lammar "A law was made that you can no longer find out."

Um, that's not what the law said. The law clarified that it's illegal and stiffened the penalties for SSOs that do it.