October 09, 2013
Gov. John Hickenlooper puts the tab of road and bridge repairs following our 2013 flood at $500 million or more. This is essential spending that will require additional tax revenues if the state's other needs are to be met. It's a terrible time to saddle Colorado taxpayers with Amendment 66's nearly $1 billion tax increase for public schools.
Fortunately, under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, the Amendment 66 tax increase can't be imposed without voter approval in November. In 2011, Coloradans soundly rejected another huge K-12 tax hike. I fully expect they'll do so again.
Built into Amendment 66 is a sizable redistribution of state revenues away from average and higher-income school districts to rural and lower-income districts. This was in anticipation of a Colorado Supreme Court ruling in the Lobato case that would have mandated more subsidies for the lower-income districts. Even though the Supremes recently ruled against the Lobato plaintiffs, judging that the existing subsidies were sufficient, Amendment 66 still includes the increases.
The connection between school spending and performance is flimsy. Low-spending states, like Utah, produce great results; Washington, D.C., spends the most and does the worst.
The U.S. outspends the world and mires in educational mediocrity. A full 40 percent of the state's operating budget already goes to public education. Under Amendment 66, the legislature would be forced to increase that share to 43 percent, further crowding out spending for other important services.
In 2000, teachers unions were instrumental in crafting and funding Amendment 23, which mandated increases in public-school spending and putting those increases on autopilot even when the economy and state revenues were falling. Amendment 66 will have the same effect, and self-serving teachers unions, educrats and the usual collection of liberal activist groups will again be leading the campaign.
Mandating such a large share of the state budget to schools or anything is bad public policy. It's the job of the legislature to set budget priorities based on revenues and overall competing needs in the context of economic conditions.
Amendment 66 is a Trojan horse to replace Colorado's flat income tax with a progressive tax that imposes higher rates on those who make over $75,000, imitating the federal government's redistribution-of-income scheme. This is what California is doing, undermining its tax base and driving higher-income earners out of the state to low-tax places like Texas. Colorado would be unwise to copy counterproductive tax policies.
Amendment 66 is long on promises but short on fundamental school reform. It doesn't disturb tenure, empower parents with choice, improve the quality of teachers or administrators, and it won't replace the union-preferred collective compensation system with pay based on individual merit.
Here's an instructive example of the duplicity of teachers unions. In 2010, the legislature passed Senate Bill 191, heralded as a major step in evaluating educators and holding them accountable. The teachers unions pretended to support this bill. One of its key elements was the elimination of "forced placement," which protected the jobs of tenured teachers including those who were incompetent. Such teachers, dismissed from one school, could be forced on another over the objection of its principal.
Now, the state's most powerful union, the Colorado Education Association, is planning to file suit to challenge SB 191 — but not, conveniently, until after the vote on Amendment 66. As a major bankroller of the campaign to pass this billion-dollar tax increase, the CEA certainly wouldn't want to look hypocritical. It's "for the children," you know.