By Tom Westfall
POSTED: 10/11/2018 10:08:20 PM MDT
I remember hearing once that the definition of "ambivalence" is "watching your mother-in-law drive off a cliff in your new Mercedes." I was always blessed with a wonderful mother-in-law so can't attest to the accuracy of this particular quote, however when it comes to general feelings of ambivalence, I can most assuredly relate.
The election season is upon us here in Colorado, as it is around the country. We will be voting for a new governor, new federal and state legislators and a county commissioner here in Logan County. In addition, Colorado once again has a plethora of citizen initiatives on the ballot that have the potential to fundamentally alter the manner in which we conduct "business."
Although the "raise the bar" amendment was previously passed (this amendment required that citizen initiatives get a certain percentage of petition signers from EACH county in Colorado, making the task of getting an initiative placed on the ballot a little more difficult) once again this year a number of items have made it on to the Colorado ballot. I'm not going to get into each and every one of these, but suffice it to say, they are numerous.
Personally I would prefer electing legislators with the courage to promote changes to Colorado law by introducing bills reflective of needed changes, but alas, that doesn't seem to be the current zeitgeist and thus the Colorado ballot is cluttered with voting options, many of which should never find their way into the Colorado Constitution.
Of particular interest to me this year is Amendment 73. This ballot initiative, if passed, would add about $1.6 billion in taxes to help fund public education. The latest figures (2018) from the U.S. Census Bureau, Education Week; Quality Counts, and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) show Colorado ranks 42nd in how much it spends per student, roughly $2,500 less than the national average.
Considering the booming economy that the state is currently experiencing, this doesn't make a lot of sense and school districts across the state are suffering from a lack of adequate funding. In the RE-1 Valley School District, (Sterling) state funding has been reduced by nearly $20 million dollars over the past 10 years. The current 4-day week is a result of a lack of funding as are other reductions in programs.
The problem with "73" in my opinion isn't the intention. Its intention is to provide adequate funding for public education. I support additional funding for public education. If I were anointed "enlightened despot" of the state for a week, I would quickly fix the TABOR (Tax Payers Bill of Rights) Amendment which is fundamentally responsible for the current funding crisis in public education, but "73" doesn't pretend to offer any sort of remedy for the most egregious portions of TABOR. Rather it imposes additional state income taxes on the wealthiest Coloradoans.
Colorado currently has a flat tax rate of 4.63 percent for state income tax. Supporters of 73 proudly announce that if passed, that tax rate would remain constant for 91.8 percent of Colorado voters. What that means is that we are essentially asking 8.2 percent of tax payers to assume a $1.6 billion dollar tax increase.(I'm one of the 91.8 percent, just for the record!)
I'm opposed to any sort of legislation that allows the vast majority of tax payers to impose heavy taxes on a small minority of tax payers when they themselves have no skin in the game. Think about this for a moment. It is always easy to say, "Well, my taxes won't go up, so why shouldn't I vote for this," but if we think about this as a larger principle what we will witness is the "tyranny of the majority."
Just because 91.8 percent of the tax payers aren't affected by this Amendment, who's to say that some of the 91.8 percent won't be in the minority the next time around. Considering the number of urban dwellers who could with relative ease, place ballot measures that would adversely affect rural Colorado (think water rights), it would behoove all rural voters to realize that the principle of Amendment 73 is basically "socking it to someone else." That doesn't seem like a sustainable model for those of us dwelling in the hinterlands, especially when we face the reality that growth in Colorado is going to demand more of everything, and that everything may just have to come from rural.
But in spite of my ambivalence and caution about 73, I might have been persuaded to make an exception to my own rule and vote for it had the proponents answered one simple question for me in the affirmative. When asked about moving back to a 5-day week with a significant pay raise for teachers, locally the answer was "well the community seems to have adjusted to the 4-day week and many people actually like it better."
I have no doubt that many people like the 4-day week, but that's not really the point, is it? If education is any good, more should be better. Is dieting 5 days a week more effective than dieting 4 days a week? Is practicing the piano 4 days a week just as effective as 5? One only has to look at the fact that in spite of our schools going to a 4-day week, our sports teams still practice on Mondays when school isn't in session. I'm assuming they practice on that day in order to improve their performance. Enough said.
John Dewey, the father of the American Education system, once said, "That which the best and wisest member of the community wants for his/her children, that must the entire community want for all its children." I truly believe that Dewey's assessment is accurate and we should work hard to elect officials who embrace the notion that education offers the very best opportunity for leveling the playing field and keeping alive the American dream of "striving fulfilled." But there are better ways of increasing funding for education.
With great ambivalence, I'll be voting "No" on Amendment 73. It's simply the wrong solution.
Tom Westfall teaches parenting classes at Family Resource Center.
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