Saturday, October 21, 2006

"Tax swap" won't cut taxes or help schools

Guest "blogger":

October 21, 2006

The Rev. Jesse Jackson led a rally at the Thompson Center last Saturday, officially jumping on board the education funding reform bandwagon. The rally was held to show support for Senate Bill 750, which Democrats will likely try to push through the General Assembly during November's veto session.

Jackson and Co. complain that our education funding system relies too heavily on property taxes, an arrangement they claim leads to vast inequities in available resources between rich and poor school districts. The bill purports to solve the problem by providing property tax relief in exchange for higher income taxes that would fund an increase in education spending. Proponents claim the ''swap'' would enable the state to increase its share of education funding, reduce the schools' reliance on property taxes and increase the overall equity of school funding.

Sounds great, right? Who could possibly say no? Unfortunately, the details of the bill expose the superficiality inside. Here are a few reasons we should forget about S.B. 750:

1. Education funding disparities are mostly irrelevant because spending differences between districts are not a good indicator of school quality. Spending differs across school districts for a variety of reasons. Not all low-spending districts are poor and not all high-spending districts are rich. Disparities are not themselves proof that someone is being denied access to quality educational opportunities.

2. There are a few cases in which funding gaps might matter, but S.B. 750 is not designed to fix them. The legislation being considered will not take money from overfunded schools and give it to underfunded schools. It will take money from all taxpayers and give it to all schools by increasing the ''foundation level'' support. It pays no regard to which might need more money and which might not.

3. Education funding reform does nothing to address problems with the allocation of education resources, particularly teaching. Teachers are paid on a strict union salary scale. Teachers also earn seniority -- which gives them, effectively, the ability to choose where they want to teach. Not surprisingly, most want to teach in schools where students have fewer educational and behavioral challenges. Because schools have no real freedom to offer higher pay for challenging environments, the net effect is that the most qualified teachers generally end up where they're needed least.

4. Despite being proffered as a tax swap, S.B. 750 is no such thing. The alleged property tax relief is an illusion. Taxpayers will actually get a property tax abatement, to be paid out of a fund into which roughly $2.4 billion of revenue generated by the income tax increase will be dumped. This fund will then be used to pay a portion of your property tax bill every year.
Your tax rate will not go down. The first time an economic recession hits and income tax revenues are not enough to fill the tax relief fund, the state will cry broke and you will once again be expected to cover the full balance of your tax bill.

5. There is insufficient oversight of school budgeting, which means there is no way for taxpayers to know whether the extra $1.6 billion S.B. 750 gives to schools will be spent on teaching kids or refurnishing the principals' offices.
To monitor how your district spends its cash you will have to attend countless school board meetings, make endless phone calls and probably file more than a few Freedom of Information Act requests. Will you get any help from the Illinois State Board of Education? Do I have to ask?

The state doesn't expect you to take it upon yourself to audit Central Management Services or the governor's office -- there is an auditor general for that. But when it comes to auditing your school, you're on your own.

I applaud Jackson and Co. for keeping education reform a topic of discussion, but their tax swap will only increase the cost of failure. To talk about education funding reform without also discussing accountability, standards, oversight and performance is a waste of time. And time is something many Illinois schoolchildren are running short on.

Michael Van Winkle manages media relations for the Heartland Institute.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

"First Responder" Pork

The Daily Pantagraph today reports on a federal Department of Homeland Security grant for the city of Pontiac.

Would someone please tell us why the heck the Department of Homeland Security is sending money to municipalities to help relieve their fire department "overtime" problems?

Precisely how does this impact the general safety and welfare of the American people?

Or could it just be pork sandwiches for all?

Imagine the cartoon-like steam coming out of our ears as you read this piece from last April in the Washington Times.

Voters, Procrastinators, UNITE!

This year Illinois has joined the 34 other states which allow "early voting". These early votes are recorded but not counted until every other vote is counted on election day. Then and only then are absentee ballots and early ballots counted.

Now, can you tell us why "exit polling" data was so far off in the last presidential election? Don't believe the exit polls.

Don't believe these pre-election polls either. The paradigm has changed with cell phone emergence and the lack of public interest in responding to polls and surveys in general. What you're left with is a sub-group of fanatics that WANT to be polled.

Under no circumstances allow any media information to deter you from recording YOUR vote, be it absentee, early, or at the polling place on Election Day!