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Jay Greeson

We are in a contentious time around these parts.

Collegedale just passed a 39-cent property tax increase. Signal Mountain has approved a 33-cent tax increase.

And we all know next Wednesday the Hamilton County Commission is expected to vote on county Mayor Jim Coppinger's request for a 34-cent property tax increase to pay for a $34 million boost to the Hamilton County Schools' budget.

The discussion has been heated. The passion has been intense. The lines have been drawn, and fingers are pointed.

In a lot of ways, all of this feels like part of the plan — maybe even from the very start — from the political motivations of the folks banging the drum for this increase.

If you dare to take a stance against a tax increase — like longtime business leader Tom Decosimo did in last Sunday's Perspective section of this paper — you likely have been pegged as anti-children. Or worse.

"I thought some of my friends would express their disappointment in my being against the tax increase," Tom shared with me in an email this week when I asked about reaction to his Sunday opinion column. "While typing, I just received an email from a prominent business person who told me he agrees with me and thanked me for my courage. He said he cannot publicly be against the tax increase for business reasons. I think there is a lot of that.

"I am in the nice position of not caring."

To make sure we are all on the same page here — Decosimo does not care about the blowback to his column or his opinion on this issue; he does, however, care deeply about our community.

And again, debating the issue does not mean we are debating whether children in our county need our support. They do.

In fact, Decosimo expecting more blowback is understandable. There have been a lot of normally conservative people and groups who are vocally supporting Coppinger's and schools Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson's request for the tax increase.

Why? Well, Decosimo believes the political machine that is UnifiEd is one reason.

"They are using it incredibly well," Decosimo said of the behind-the-scenes moves by UnifiEd. "Remember some opposed to the APEX report were labeled racist. Right out of the "Rules for Radicals" playbook by Saul Alinsky. [It's] brilliant."

Decosimo shared a story about one of his nieces who works with a church that helps inner-city students. He knows of the struggles of those sympathetic kids facing hardships.

But it also raises the bigger question of whether we can tax our way out of poverty. And more directly for this issue, is it the job of a school system that is supposed to serve 44,000-plus students to be focused on ending poverty?

Sure, it is an admirable and purposeful pursuit. But for a public school system looking to serve the needs of so many, is it best to be that specifically focused on fighting generational poverty, broken homes, dysfunctional families and almost every other social issue facing young people today?

And because some folks are asking similar questions, some ugly labels are getting thrown around. How is it that Decosimo and those of us who oppose the tax increase right now — especially before we know the results of a district-wide school facilities report that could include upwards of $500 million in capital needs — are being labeled racist, anti-student, anti-schools?

"There is a big contingent of people for whom a tax increase is a real burden," Decosimo said. "The opposition are the ones who simply see what is going on and have the good horse sense to know this tax increase for 300 non-classroom teachers — while it is well-known we have a bloated bureaucracy — is wrong."

But the majority of Chattanoogans, he said, "are willing to come together and do what needs to be done as long as they know the money is not being wasted."

Whatever the outcome of Wednesday's expected budget vote (and know that commission approval is not a sure thing, folks), some have noted that UnifiEd isn't going away. In fact, some elected officials have said that UnifiEd will be involved in next year's local elections. That shouldn't surprise anyone, given its deep financial backing from foundations — with their own agendas — and individuals here.

But if that's accurate, well, that's not necessarily about education, our kids, our money or our views on race.

That's all about politics.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com.

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