Paul Teske is dean of the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver.
Today’s Denver Post story about the Joint Budget Committee not approving more funding for school breakfasts for low income kids is emblematic of where we are with the state’s fiscal position. Cuts will be made, to education, higher education, and other areas, even though we know that many of the things being cut are important to achieving broader educational goals.
Parents have been told, repeatedly, by all forms of research and media, that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day for kids” – so that they can learn without being hungry. But, I guess we don’t want to pay the 30 cents for kids whose families can’t afford it –so it must not be that important. In our $250 billion gross state economy, we can’t find $124,000 to pay for 56,000 eligible children for the period from March–June 2011.
The Post article quotes JBC member Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen: “I honestly felt like asking parents to spend 30 cents per meal was an appropriate vote,” Gerou said. “If we did not have a revenue shortfall, my vote would be different than it is. Nobody wants to charge children for those breakfasts, but we are where we are. We just don’t have any money.”
No, we don’t. We are where we are.
Mainly this is because we tax ourselves at the 48th lowest overall rate in America.
And, this is hardly the only impact of under-funding. At the higher ed level, research is strong and solid that student retention and eventual graduation are greatly enhanced if freshmen are taught by full-time faculty who have offices, with whom they can make a real connection – but, because of budget cuts, the vast majority of our Colorado higher ed first-year classes are now taught by “one-off” adjuncts or lecturers (many of whom are terrific teachers), who can’t fill that mentorship role.
More broadly, this illustrates the extreme disjuncture of Colorado’s services and revenues. While everyone agrees that they are out of balance, as Rep. Gerou notes, the only thing the legislature can do is to cut services. “The people” don’t get to vote this week on a new tax (which would be between 2 and 3 cents for each Coloradan) to pay for those kids’ breakfasts for the rest of the year.
This is true, even though there is polling out there that suggests that citizens would favor raising revenues before making more cuts to education services. And, in other states like Arizona and Illinois, voters and/or legislators are increasing taxes, sometimes a lot, to pay for critical services. But, in Colorado the legislature can’t raise revenues, and the soonest it could possibly be done by the people, with a ballot initiative, is next fall, well after fiscal 2012 cuts are already made by the legislature.
To demonstrate the disjuncture and asymmetry of our situation, imagine a hypothetical alternative: Say that homeless advocate Bruce Douglas gets petitions for a ballot initiative to require that the citizens vote on all cuts to state and local programs – where cuts are defined as decreases in spending on any specific program, when accounting for inflation and the number of service recipients. This might be called the “Citizens Bill of Rights” or CIBOR.
I would imagine that newspaper editorials and other forums would immediately condemn the irresponsibility and ridiculousness of CIBOR – “it would take representative government away from the elected legislators,” and “it would provide no flexibility in balancing an annual state or local budget.”
But, it is not clear to me how CIBOR would be any different from, or asymmetrical to, our current situation with TABOR – the legislature can and will only cut services (totaling $3-4 billion over the past 3 years), while the citizens, who might want to support some of those services, don’t get a say, unless someone launches a big ballot initiative, 9 months later.
Popularity: 37% [?]