66 not the right plan for schools
October 22, 2013
On Nov. 5, Colorado voters will be asked to cast their ballot on the biggest tax increase in the history of the state of Colorado. That's a pretty hefty decision, so it's very important that all the facts are on the table.
To begin with, amending the state Constitution is very serious business and should not be taken lightly. In my opinion, it should not be used as a vehicle for permanently increasing taxes. Yes, I said permanently because there is no sunset clause attached to this amendment, which means that these taxes will be in place forever and will continue to grow regardless of whether or not a need exists. Forever is a long time to have a tax in place — a tax that is being collected with no program specified as its dedicated target. Forever is a long time to put a tax in place that is disgracefully lacking in detail.
But let's back up a minute because I forgot some basics that went into bringing this amendment to the ballot. It was passed in the state Legislature without one Republican vote. Additionally, the Republicans put forth 100 amendments to the bill, all of which were rejected. Doesn't it seem slightly unhealthy to have an issue of this magnitude, in the form of an amendment to the constitution, passed without bi-partisan support? I mean, come on, surely if this made sense, at least one lonely Republican would have supported it or at least one amendment would have been considered.
And, by the way, the amendments that were proposed were simply attempts to create accountability, to set standards to be measured against, to put something in place that could give an indication as to the effectiveness of this huge influx of capital into an already failing system. At this point there is no information to support the notion that throwing money at education creates better schools or better results. I suggest using the example of the Washington, D.C., system, which consistently shows the worst results for the greatest per-student expenditure in the United States.
But let's move along because there is more. Charter schools will not benefit in the same ratio as the rest of the public school system — in fact, they will receive very little of these new tax dollars. And then there's the very simple fact of inequality. Counties will not necessarily receive the taxes they generate. Counties generating the lowest amount of revenues for the state will receive the largest amount of funding from this amendment.
The other inequality is in the method of collection. Those with taxable incomes of less than $75,000 will pay 5 percent (currently 4.63 percent) while those over $75,000 will pay 5.9 percent. Another first for the state of Colorado where we have never had a graduated tax.
So who's the hidden beneficiary of all of these dollars — the part that nobody wants to discuss? It's PERA. You got it. The Public Employees' Retirement Association. Does that sound like it's "for the kids"?
And here's one that I really don't get. The control of the $100 million in "innovation fund" money will rest with an appointed board. So that means that whoever is in the governor's office will have control of a portion of these massive dollars. The total amount raised is expected to generate $450 million in year one, $950 million by year two, $1.1 billion (yeah, that's a B) by the third year and Lord only knows how much after that — money that is exempt from TABOR. So no matter how large that number is and regardless of the need or lack of one, the money keeps rolling in.
And as a little aside, if those in charge were truly interested in the kids and controlling their budget, then they could make a quick fix by paring down on non-teaching staff.
In the period from 1950-2009, student growth has been at 96 percent, teaching staff by 252 percent and non-teaching staff by a whopping 702 percent. What do these people do? I'd say let's start by looking at what seems to be excessive spending on non-essentials before we ask for this enormous tax increase in a very soft economy.
But wait, I'm not finished. This huge influx of dollars equates to a 25 percent increase in education funding — minus PERA's cut — and also requires that a minimum level of 43 percent of future state income, excise and sales tax revenues be dedicated to education annually, and that is above what is collected through property taxes which is already the largest portion of your bill.
There's also a component of this amendment that most are unaware or have overlooked. They are no longer talking about K through 12; it's now pre-K through 12, and that isn't planned to be equitable either — it will focus on at-risk students, free lunches and English language learners.
How much more needs to be said? If I were to set out to suggest the implementation of the most ill-thought-out, onerous tax with the least amount of substantiated need, I couldn't have done a better job. Add to that the lack of accountability and standards for measuring success — well I'm almost speechless that it even got this far.
But it has. So what do we do about it? Let's save our money for a better plan. Let's strive for bi-partisan support. Let's require that TABOR be part of any tax collection. Let's insist that current expenditures come under rigorous scrutiny before we simply authorize more cash flow into the system. Let's make sure that if we're asked to vote "for the kids," the kids really are the beneficiaries.
I could go on but you get the picture. There's only one answer to this question:
Vote "no" on Amendment 66.
Kaye Ferry is chair of the Eagle County Republican Central Committee.
Editor's note: Amendment 66 states that the funds must "be appropriated to benefit the education of participants in preschool programs and public school kindergarten through 12th-grade students by implementing educational reforms and programmatic enhancements, enacted by the Colorado General Assembly." With regards to funds used to hire new teachers, the money would go to the salary for the teachers as well as the statutorily required contributions to PERA.