March
18th 2009
State Board Members Criticize Supreme Court Ruling Made “For the Children”

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & Governor & Independence Institute & Public Charter Schools & School Board & School Finance & State Board of Education & State Legislature & Teachers

Update: State Board member Peggy Littleton also weighed in (see below)

When I asked my teacher, she told me that judges are supposed to interpret the law — not just make up stuff. (Which is something I tend to do after eating the last two chocolate chip cookies from the jar.) So I was a little confused and disappointed when I saw what went down a couple days ago at the Colorado Supreme Court.

Independence Institute president Jon Caldara and the Denver Post‘s Vincent Carroll are among many who have highlighted flaws in the court’s judgment. They’re right — the ruling seems to say taxpayer protections in the state constitution don’t mean much when the issue at stake supposedly is “for the children”. I know it’s really not my fault, but being a kid, whenever I’m used for unsavory political purposes — well, I feel a little guilty about it.

That guilt led me to get my Education Policy Center friends to ask the opinions of some other important people about this supreme court decision: namely, members of the Colorado State Board of Education. Interestingly, the State Board was the original defendant in this lawsuit led by the Independence Institute and filed by taxpayers. If you didn’t know better, you’d think they’d all be happy with a Supreme Court decision that went their way. But not so fast.

Here’s what State Board chairman Bob Schaffer had to say:

The Court’s ruling embeds Gov. Ritter’s massive property-tax increase into the state’s tax code at a time when the economy is already burdening many homeowners with unbearable housing expenses. Taking away the voters’ Constitutional right to approve tax increases is as harmful as the timing. While most states are throwing life preservers to their struggling homeowners, farmers and small business owners, Colorado has thrown yet another economic anvil. [link added]

Compliments of Colorado’s own Acme Anvil Co. … With Bill Ritter, state legislative Democrats, and the Colorado Supreme Court apparently determined to play the part of Wile E. Coyote. We can only hope the rest of us somehow end up as lucky as the Road Runner.

Board member Peggy Littleton shared her thoughts along similar lines, but making an additional interesting point:

The supreme court ruling doesn’t guarantee any more money for schools, just for state government. If the legislature and the governor really were trying to preserve K-12 funding, they wouldn’t rewrite rules to drive away oil and gas companies along with the revenues they provide for schools. Our leaders in the State Capitol are threatening revenues from a perfectly viable resource, while letting families take the hit again by having to pay more on property taxes. How can we say we need more money for education on one hand, and turn it aside on the other? This isn’t for the children: this is politics, plain and simple.

Moving on, State Board member Marcia Neal – whose district represents most of the taxpayers filing the suit – explains the justified sense of anger and betrayal:

In 1999 Mesa County voters approved a measure that allowed School District #51 to retain monies from gifts, grants, and fund raisers. They did so because they were promised by the local school board that the measure would be used in NO OTHER WAY. Little did they know that eight years later the governor would use the measure to circumvent Tabor in no longer allowing tax rates to decrease. The governor and, now the Supreme Court, have used semantics to perpetrate this action. People have grown distrustful of their government, Local control and the word of the local politician have been deeply harmed by this action.

Marcia Neal was on the District #51 school board from 1997 to 2005, so she knows what she’s talking about. And so does the current District #51 superintendent Tim Mills, who told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel that the law upheld by the supreme court financially is “‘just a shift of the burden’ and has no effect on the district’s bottom line.”

So the state’s highest judges ignore the constitution, snub the voters, and cost people like my mom and dad more tax dollars … And it wasn’t even really “for the children” in the first place, was it? Now I REALLY feel used.

Thanks to the State Board members for their comments. I’ve put out the word to others, and will add in their comments here if and when I hear back from them.

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