Editorial: Half a cent is not much to ask

Consumers may want to clutch their change purses a little tighter — a new amendment may be charging them up to half a cent in sales tax to help community colleges.

Though the economy may be declining and politicians are beginning to utter the “r” word, there’s no need to bolt to the penny jar and start protesting. It’s just half a cent. At the most, instead of paying 7 percent sales tax in Hillsborough County, consumers would be shelling out 7.5 percent.

With Amendment 8, Florida voters can approve an increase of sales tax for a period of up to five years in their respective counties.

As Florida and the nation face more financial hurdles every day, more people are laid off and, in the absence of job prospects, return to school.

During tough economic times, community colleges and universities tend to see an influx of new enrollments as students apply with the hope of improving their quality of life or making themselves more marketable to employers. Since universities and community colleges cannot subsist on tuition dollars alone, they must look for alternative ways to make up for a dearth of funds from the state.

So, why not approve this amendment?

Critics have said it’ll just place the burden on low-income families. However, low-income families are precisely the ones who will benefit from this amendment, since they are the ones most likely to return to school for retraining or to change their career.

Across the state, community colleges and universities alike have seen an increase in enrollment. In September, the Lakeland Ledger reported that Pasco Community College has seen a 10.1 percent enrollment increase since last year.

Manatee Community College opposes the bill, stating that it shouldn’t be passed in such a “tough economic climate.” Though it’s laudable that MCC takes the average American’s pocketbook into consideration, the college does a disservice by ignoring community colleges’ need for increased funding so that they can provide more opportunities for said average Americans to better themselves. It’s like the old “teach a man to fish” adage: Reject people’s money, and they will save a few pennies today. Teach people new skills, and they will prosper tomorrow.

In addition, state budget cuts and the declining funds of the Florida Lottery have resulted in less money for education, affecting universities and colleges statewide. In September, lawmakers had to tap into a $48 million reserve to make up for lost revenue.

Unless some action is taken, it is uncertain how long MCC and other colleges can offer academic excellence, diversity and innovation — as MCC’s mission statement pledges to do.

It’s time MCC and legislators take education seriously and stop trying to make everyone happy.

Cough up that cash. Go break the piggy bank.