Republican candidates running for elected office in Hall County have been asked to sign a No Tax Pledge this week during the qualifying period.
And while pledging not to raise taxes is standard procedure for most conservative candidates, the issue has politically charged the race for local Board of Education posts after some incumbents seeking re-election declined to give their John Hancock to the document.
The Hall County Republican Party began circulating the pledge in 2010, piggybacking on a similar campaign targeting elected officials in Washington.
“We had a lot of folks who claimed to be Republicans … yet they seemed to be pretty open to increasing taxes without a really legitimate reason for doing so,” said Paul Stanley, a lawyer and former chairman of the Hall County Republican Party. Stanley oversees the qualifying and credentialing process for local GOP candidates.
The pledge is seen by some local political observers as a sort of litmus test for GOP voters, and as a way to hold officials accountable for their positions both before and after the election.
“(The pledge) is just a physical reminder of the things they promised,” said Kris Yardley, current chairman of the Hall County Republican Party.
But the pledge has rubbed some candidates the wrong way.
“… I just can’t sign something that might turn out to be a lie later on,” said Bill Thompson, the at-large representative on the school board. “It’s easy to say I will not do something, but it’s not realistic.”
But when it comes to parsing words, debate remains about whether rolling up millage rates actually constitutes a tax increase.
A tax roll-up is an increase in the tax rate to the point where an equal amount of property tax revenues is expected. Since tax revenues remain the same in a roll-up, it’s not legally considered a tax increase even though the rate goes up.
Incumbent Brian Sloan, who appears to face the stiffest challenge to his campaign for re-election to the Post 2 seat, said those millage rate increases were not a tax hike.
“The thing that bothers me the least is my property taxes because I believe I get value out of local services,” he added.
Meanwhile, Thompson was unsure about how to view those increases.
“I guess that, in itself, it is technically an increase in taxes,” he said.
Either way, residents of Hall County can expect the issue of taxes to be played up in the school board race this year.
For Mark Pettitt, who is running against Sloan, the issue is a clear battleground in the election.
“We’re certainly going to let voters know that (Sloan) has supported tax increases,” Pettitt said. “I’m not going to entertain the idea of balancing the budget on the backs of Hall County taxpayers and teachers.”