Supporters of Amendment 66 are desperate to fool us.
The proposed amendment, pitched with exploitation of society’s concern for children, would impose a massive new tax hike.Teachers unions and other supporters tell us they need new taxes to implement reforms created by SB191 – a law The Gazette supported in 2010. The bill established performance-based reforms designed to reward excellence in classrooms. It famously linked contractual job security for teachers, known as tenure, to performance. Teachers unions hated it.
Today, as backers of the Amendment 66 tax hike, unions supposedly favor SB191 reforms. They insist the new taxes will fund the law’s classroom transformations to benefit children. At the same time, two unions that support the tax hike – Denver Classroom Teachers Association and Colorado Education Association – plan to sue and put an end to merit-based tenure just as soon as they get beyond the election. They want to sell the tax by flaunting SB191, then destroy its most important reform after they get their money. Sleazy? To put it kindly. “The root arguments for the tax increase are the reforms in SB191,” said Paul Lundeen, the Colorado State School Board representative for Colorado Springs and the rest of Congressional District 5.
Lundeen was chosen by his peers to chair the board, but spoke to The Gazette only in his capacity as District 5 representative.
“By pitching this tax increase as a means to carry out popular reforms, the teacher’s unions have an illusory advantage. But the very threat of this lawsuit shows their true position. They seek to keep in our classrooms those few teachers who don’t belong there because those teachers are dues-paying members of the union. They want it both ways. They want to pass the tax increase on the very classroom transformations they intend to stop in court.”
Any question about this plot ended when reporter Megan Schrader exposed in Sunday’s Gazette an agreement to effectively conceal the proposed lawsuit from voters until after the election. The anticipated litigation, which will challenge linking tenure to performance, had to be filed before the statute of limitations expired in August. But the defendant in the threatened suit, the Colorado Board of Education, agreed after an Aug. 26 close-door meeting to grant the unions an extension. The new deadline gives the unions an option to file suit early next year, after voters have decided the fate of the tax hike.
“The political calculus from the union’s perspective is they get past the election in November without the voters seeing their opposition to something they use as a justification for needing this money,” Lundeen said.
He opposes the lawsuit and tax increase, but voted for the extension. That’s because the classroom reforms in SB191, which Lundeen supports, began only at the start of this school year in all of the state’s 178 school districts. Without the extension, the unions would have sued in late August and filed an injunction to stop SB191 reforms.
“We wanted to allow SB191 to be in place for at least a semester, allowing it the momentum of becoming effective policy, before a lawsuit was dropped on it,” Lundeen said. “It was a situation of hold your nose and give the union the potential to sue later, understanding these policies stand a better chance if we allow them to roll out for an entire semester.”
This isn’t the first time supporters of this tax have tried to hoodwink the public. Before exposing the hush-hush lawsuit arrangement, The Gazette revealed how the Legislature’s Democratic majority quietly sat on a $1 billion-plus revenue surplus this year without substantive new education spending. They did so to create an illusion of school poverty, so voters might be fooled into approving the tax hike.
Like State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, Lundeen said the tax is part of a deceptive plot to backfill the state government’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association. A majority won’t support bailing out our state’s overly generous pension but might fall for a “save the children” facade.
“The minute someone says ‘I need money to transform the classroom,’ it’s not real transformation. It’s just more money,” Lundeen said. “Reform is doing things better and wiser with the resources we already have.”
Supporters of this tax need to stop with the deception and lies. Voters shouldn’t even think to reward these sleaze tactics with a giant new tax.
Wayne Laugesen is editorial page editor at the Colorado Springs Gazette, where this op-ed first appeared.