OPINION – One of the greatest frustrations of living with the red state blues is the reluctance to acknowledge the need for taxes and the occasional requirement for hiking them.
Remember when George H.W. Bush exclaimed at the 1988 Republican convention, “Read my lips, no new taxes” only to have to back down two years later?
Remember how “trickle-down” economics was supposed to take care of our fiscal woes, only instead, it resulted in a recession?
Someday, maybe, the conservative mindset will come around to understand that taxes are a necessity, especially when the future of our children is at stake.
Utah finds itself in a sorrowful position of sinking revenues for education.
During the last 20 years, the state has dropped from the seventh-highest rating for education funding in the nation to 37th, the result of a 29 percent decrease in funding. In dollars and cents, our funding for K-12 education is $1.2 billion less than it was in 1990.
You can hold however many bake sales, car washes or candy drives you wish and you still won’t make up that deficit. The only way to do it is to raise taxes.
There are, of course, apologists who argue that the problem is because Utah is a sort of anomaly in that there are so many school-age children and fewer adults of working age than elsewhere.
They will argue that per-pupil-spending doesn’t always equate to classroom achievement, which is debatable, especially when you have selfless people working in our schools who have grown accustomed to doing so much more with so little, even to the extent of digging into their own pockets for school supplies, spending their free time on classroom efforts and projects and making the kind of monetary and physical sacrifices to ensure our children are educated.
But, there comes a point where all the volunteerism in the world falls short, all of the good-hearted sacrifices fail and the house of cards comes tumbling down.
Look, we could all use a larger chunk of our money.
It can be painful to pay taxes.
But this isn’t for some frivolous bridge to nowhere or undeserved pay hike for legislators or professional politicians unable to go into the world and get real jobs.
This is about educating our children so they can be competitive in a growing global economy.
Our young people are entering a world where they not only compete with talent from Southern Utah but across the planet.
Part of the problem, of course, is the corporate greed that has figured that it is much cheaper to farm out jobs that were once manned locally to foreign nations where the workforce is equally talented but paid a pittance. It’s how business is done these days.
I know firsthand of a Southern Utah company that was expanding its facility. The city offered an incentive to the business that would have cut taxes and utility costs. The company declined because part of the deal was to agree to pay those working at the site a certain percentage more than the prevailing average wage.
Now those trapped in such an environment are certainly free to look elsewhere for work.
But, to compete in a tightening job market, you need an education, and despite arguments to the contrary, funding is important because, well, you get what you pay for.
That’s why a group of Utah business people have created a group they call Our Schools Now, which is gathering signatures to put a proposal on the 2018 ballot to hike personal income taxes 7/8 of 1 percent, which would add about $750 million to education revenues, or approximately $1,000 per student.
More money in the budget would help reduce classroom numbers and provide programs to intervene in behalf of students lagging behind. It would offer greater educational opportunities and programs for our teachers and help alleviate some of the crunch on their own personal pocketbooks, which they raid regularly to purchase classroom materials. And, it would replace the many good-hearted volunteers who come into the classroom to help with paid professionals who have earned degrees in education.
The money would go primarily to K-12 education, with 15 percent going to higher education and 1 percent earmarked for applied technology colleges.
The measure would ensure local control over the money, with parents, teachers and administrators deciding how best to use it. There would also be some accountability written into the measure requiring schools to put together annual improvement plans to retain full funding.
Ballot initiatives are an awkward way to instigate change. They take time and can be cumbersome and, often, are poorly written, but the advantage is that ballot initiatives are a way to bypass ineffective leaders who are either too timid or regressive to make needed changes, which is the way it goes in Utah where the Legislature often bows to any number of special interests for direction.
But, can there be any interest more special to us than our children?
You will undoubtedly hear arguments from those without children who claim that it is an unfair burden for them to pay into the educational fund through their taxes. But, when you hear that argument, ask who paid for their primary and secondary education.
Our children are not a burden.
Instead, they are our hope for moving forward and completing the work we will leave undone.
The problem here is that 2018 is a bit down the line.
It would be nice if the Legislature grew a spine and stepped up to make up for the financial losses in our classrooms.
But, given the political climate, I doubt that will happen.
Even when it is their own children and grandchildren who stand to benefit.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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