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The Denver Post reports today on a study indicating that property taxes are not adequately funding schools, which should help Gov. Bill Ritter sell a plan that has been criticized through the use of faulty sound-byte language.
Colorado pays a growing share of the cost to educate students in wealthier school districts, while homeowners in poorer areas pay higher property-tax bills to cover the basic operating costs of their schools, an analysis of spending shows.
The problem is caused by competing constitutional mandates and legal requirements to limit taxes and increase school spending.
“Just about every new dollar available at the state level that could have been used to impact K-12 (kindergarten through 12th grade) has been used to replace a dollar lost at the local level,” Democratic State Treasurer Cary Kennedy said. “This is why we have struggled for years to fund education adequately in Colorado.”
Over the past 14 years, tax limits on local school districts have shifted an ever-increasing share of school costs onto the state budget…
…Although property-tax rates have declined in every school district, homeowners in many lower-income communities are paying higher property-tax bills to support their local schools.
To address the shift of school costs from local communities to the state, Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter has proposed freezing property-tax rates. That plan is expected to be considered again at the state Capitol this week.
While locking rates at current levels is expected to let districts keep more money and would slow down a shift of costs to the state, homeowners in resorts and oil-and-gas boomtowns have already benefited from deep cuts in property-tax rates while state taxpayers foot the bill for their schools.
I think Ritter’s plan to freeze property tax rates to pay for public schools is a great idea, and I would like to see him really stand up and pound his fist on the table about it. Republicans have criticized the plan by calling it a “tax increase” in the same manner that opponents of Referendum C in 2005 called it a “tax increase” even though it didn’t raise taxes at all. It’s long been thought that the public is wary of anything resembling a tax increase, but Republicans ride that pony even when something doesn’t resemble a tax increase at all.
Property tax rates fall automatically on a regular basis, and Ritter is proposing freezing those rates in place. By my definition, that is not a tax increase. The word ‘increase’ means to go up, and nothing is going up here. If Republicans are going to keep using this line, Ritter should respond by touting all of the times he has cut taxes by not freezing a tax rate for something. It’s the same logic. If you are going to be accused of raising taxes when you freeze them, you should get credit for cutting taxes when you don’t freeze them. Two can play at that silly game of politics.