Gov. Bill Ritter continues to take heat from Republicans for his plan to fund public schools. As the Rocky Mountain News reports:
Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter is putting most – if not all – of his fresh political capital on the line to win support for his controversial plan to free up more money for public schools. At least three Senate Democrats harbor deep concerns about the property tax measure, mindful of the political backlash it could spur.
If they stick to their guns and oppose the measure, Ritter won’t have enough votes to get his fundraising plan out of the Senate.
“It’s a gutsy plan,” said Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, a supporter. “The vote on this is going to require political leadership and courage. I think the governor is going to deliver both, but it’s going to cost him, and us, some political capital.”
Ritter has proposed freezing the property tax rates in most districts to shore up the state education fund, which is expected to go broke by 2011. Republicans say Ritter’s plan amounts to a tax increase and should go to the voters as required by the state constitution under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
I’ve already discussed why I think it’s absurd for Republicans to keep calling this a “tax increase,” and so did Democratic Rep. Jack Pommer. As the Rocky reported on the Ritter plan making it through the State House yesterday:
The vote on SB 199 was 8-5, with all the Democrats in support and all the Republicans opposed. The bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee.
Republicans called the plan a tax increase. Democrats rejected that argument, countering that the plan does not determine anyone’s tax bill, only the rate at which property will be taxed.
Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, pointed out several times that the measure is projected to raise $1.8 billion in taxes over the next 10 years. The repeated assertion got under the skin of Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, the House sponsor of the bill.
“The sound bite is wrong, and you say it over and over again,” said Pommer, who believes that Gardner is unfairly inflating the figure by calculating it out over a decade.
Gardner and Pommer also clashed over a GOP assertion that more money could be raised from lands set aside as an endowment for schools. Pommer called the idea an “absurd proposal.”
I hope Ritter keeps pushing this idea forward, because as Sen. Romer indicated earlier, the Governor is showing true leadership in proposing a realistic solution to a real problem. Republicans, meanwhile, have proven through their opposition that they are only interested in spouting politically-charged statements – and that’s exactly why Democrats are in the majority today. Voters have put Democrats in charge in Colorado because Republicans spend nearly a decade doing nothing but trying to appease an ultra-conservative base. They’re do the same thing now by calling Ritter’s plan a “tax increase” while people like Republican Sen. Josh Penry propose bills that would put additional strain on schools without supporting programs to help fund them.
Projections show a $100 million deficit in the state school fund by the 2011-12 school year. In order to solve that problem, Ritter is proposing a freeze on lowering property taxes – not an increase in property taxes. But Republicans would rather play politics than play government, because they’re too afraid to disappoint their unreasonable base than to admit that money doesn’t really grow on trees.
President Bush has done the same thing during his time in the White House, spending billions and billions on the war in Iraq while simultaneously cutting taxes. As a result, the United States faces a severe budget deficit even though the country enjoyed a huge surplus when Bush took office. Wars cost money, and you can’t raise money by cutting taxes. Schools cost money, and you can’t spend money on education if you aren’t willing to make tough choices.
Kudos to Gov. Ritter for taking an unpopular step to solve a very real problem. Nothing in government would ever get done if only the politically popular ideas were implemented, which is why nothing got done when Republicans were running things in Colorado.