Colorado Politics: Amendment 73 would kill jobs, feed bureaucracy — without helping our kids

Colorado Politics: Amendment 73 would kill jobs, feed bureaucracy — without helping our kids

October 3, 2018

Guest Opinion by Luke Ragland

I’m passionate about public education. I have dedicated my professional life to improving schools and expanding educational opportunities for Colorado’s students. But I’m adamantly opposed to Amendment 73.

Proponents of Amendment 73 make a simple pitch to voters: we should tax the “rich” to fund education. But don’t be fooled, there’s nothing simple about it, and every Coloradan would pay for it. Rather, Amendment 73 is fundamentally flawed in three respects: it jeopardizes Colorado’s economic competitiveness; it is deceptive and poorly written; and it is a blank check that perpetuates failures and inequities in our education system.

Read the opposing view: “PRO | Colorado’s educators support Amendment 73. Here’s why.”

Amendment 73 would devastate Colorado’s economy. If the measure is approved, Colorado would go from having one of the lowest tax rates in the country to the eighth-highest, putting us on par with states like New York and Vermont. It would destroy our competitive edge in the Rocky Mountain region by putting our corporate rate higher than Utah’s, Arizona’s and New Mexico’s. Simply put, Amendment 73 is a job killer.

The data backs me up. According to a recent study by the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, if Amendment 73 passes, over the next 20 years, nearly 12,000 jobs will be lost annually in the private sector and disposable personal income is estimated to decrease by $1.8 billion annually. We aren’t doing our children any favors if we increase funding for their schools by limiting future career opportunities.

Amendment 73 is deceptive, poorly written, and rife with unintended consequences. Proponents claim the measure is a tax increase on wealthy CEOs and big corporations. That’s not true. A careful analysis shows Amendment 73 will amount to a combination of new taxes and service cuts that will hurt middle-income married couples, farms, and every homeowner in Colorado. It is particularly harmful to small businesses, forcing them to pay an income tax rate as much as 78 percent higher than their current rate and 37 percent higher than the rate applied to multibillion-dollar corporations.

Public services would suffer because money would be snatched from the budgets of firefighters, sheriff’s departments, public health agencies, emergency medical services, libraries, parks, recreation facilities, water districts and more. This surprising outcome manifests because proponents wanted to increase property taxes for education rather than addressing Colorado’s property tax law holistically. I am not sure whether the proponents intended this outcome, but I am sure that it would be disasterous for local governments.

Proponents claim that Colorado is one of the lowest-funded states for K-12 education. Again, this isn’t true. According to the nation’s largest teachers union (the national arm of Colorado’s largest teachers union), Colorado is ranked 27th in spending per student. Squarely in the middle of the pack.

Colorado shouldn’t pass a constitutional amendment filled with hidden consequences and sold on false premises.

Amendment 73 does absolutely nothing to improve our schools or increase teacher salaries. The research (and common sense) tells us that simply adding more money to the same system without structural changes will not result in better outcomes. Stanford researcher Erik Hanushek has repeatedly and thoroughly debunked the idea that money alone can solve problems in American education. The vast majority of studies show no correlation between increased spending and improved student outcomes.

Further, increases in education funding in Colorado have not, and will not, result in higher teacher salaries. From 1992 to 2014, per-pupil inflation-adjusted spending has increased by 15 percent. During that same time period, teacher salaries are down 11 percent.

So where is the money going? From 2011-2017 the number of students in Colorado grew by 6 percent, teachers by 8 percent and district administrators grew by an astounding 34 percent. This explosive bureaucratic growth is a crisis for our schools, but Amendment 73 does nothing to address the problem. In fact, we could be making the problem worse.

Should we work to improve our public schools? Absolutely. There are literally dozens of changes Colorado could make this year that would increase students’ access to high quality education. Improved student performance would provide our kids with unlimited opportunities, grow our economy, and benefit everyone.

To be sure, Colorado teachers need raises. But Amendment 73 is not the answer to any of these problems.

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