Our Democrat Governor Bill Ritter announced today to Colorado homeowners: “No tax cut for you!” The Governor’s plan is to freeze a scheduled cut in property tax rates so he can increase funding for K-12 education – already the richest, healthiest part of the state budget.
The proposed funding increase (part of Senate Bill 199, this year’s School Finance legislation) is primarily designed to create more full-day kindergarten and preschool slots. According to the reliable source of Colorado Senate News, Republican Senator Josh Penry correctly identified the move as a “tax increase,” while Assistant Senate Minority Leader Nancy Spence rightly questioned the “one-size-fits-all approach” that trumps the Democrats’ conveniently played “local control” card.
The Governor’s press release suggests that the plan will save the State Education Fund (SEF) from insolvency. However, steering a more fiscally sensible course would do the same just as well. The latest report on SEF from the Legislative Council projects that the current course of mandated Amendment 23 education spending increases will temporarily cut into the Fund but isn’t expected to deplete it. Of course, the Council’s report doesn’t take into account new programs and spending increases.
One reason it seems politically safe for Governor Ritter to make a pro-tax pitch like this is the repeated and constant distortion of our state’s history and standing in funding public schools. Colorado ranks 28th nationally at more than $9,000 spent per pupil in K-12 education. State appropriations to K-12 education per pupil have grown by 16 percent in the past 5 years – after you factor out inflation. It’s not like all the money has dried up.
Then again, one might be willing to consider more funding for early childhood education, if it weren’t run by the same monopoly system that has done such a mediocre job of educating the state’s elementary and secondary students.
Asking the taxpayers to give a little more “for the children” without a more systematic fix of what ails our schools is the easy path: bowing to the collective interests of unions and bureaucrats against the diffuse interest of average homeowners. Instead, it’s time to stand up to the interest groups and support parental empowerment with choice and opportunity, Mr. Governor. Are you up to the challenge?