2021 Election, Ari Armstrong, Education, Marijuana, Taxes, Uncategorized

Armstrong: A skeptical note on tax hikes for education bureaucracy

One of these things is not like the other. I can get behind legislative approval of “custodial” slush-fund money, Amendment 78 on the ballot (although I’m not sure what to make of a legal challenge to it). Cut property taxes with Prop 120? Sign me up! Increase taxes to expand education bureaucracy with Prop 119? Whoa there! Let’s think this one through.

Usually conservatives are pretty solid votes against tax hikes. But many Colorado conservatives remain sore about the legalization of medical marijuana in 2000 and recreational marijuana in 2012. So although usually conservatives would scream over the line, “Shall state taxes be increased $137,600,000 annually,” many of them quiet down when they read the next bit, “on retail marijuana sales.”

I detest discriminatory taxes of all kinds, including “sin” taxes. Beyond its role of protecting individual rights, government ought not decide what is “sinful” and what is not. Now, if we want to talk about compensation for direct harms to others, fine. That’s the basic idea behind my proposal for a Carbon Compensation Fund. But there is nothing inherently rights-violating about consuming marijuana, any more than there is anything rights-violating about me enjoying a fine Scotch whisky at home. In my view, the imposition of “sin” taxes is the real sin.

Plus, do we really want to encourage more black-market marijuana sales? Does anyone remember how New York police choked Eric Garner to death over the sale of untaxed cigarettes? You’d think that Americans would be sensitive to this problem given that colonists including Sam Adams used to smuggle tea to evade British taxes.

Then there is the matter of how these funds will be used. If the funds were simply given to less-well-off families as something like tutor vouchers or even direct cash payments, that would be one thing. I’d still worry a lot about incentivizing people to support marijuana use and “sin” taxes (“dude, I’m totally smoking this joint for the children”), but at least the money would help empower families to improve their kids’ education. But that’s not what Prop 119 does.

That the text of Prop 119 consumes thirteen pages of the Blue Book should, by itself, give you pause. The idea here is to provide “out-of-school learning opportunities.” Toward that end, the measure creates the “Colorado Learning Authority Board.” Huh. I kind of thought conservatives were against creating new bureaucracies.

Among other things, “The authority”—and note that the measure usually refers to the relevant bureaucracy as “The Authority”—shall “create and develop criteria for the provision and selection of learning opportunities for distribution of funds.”

Hopefully you were not suffering the delusion that parents are competent to decide what “learning opportunities” are appropriate for their children. Obviously we need “The Authority” to decide such matters.

Then consider this truly idiotic provision: “It is the intent of the people that the financial aid distributed will be new dollars to spend on new services and must not supplant existing public or charitable funding for programs available to eligible children or youth.” We can declare “musts” and “must nots” all day, but the fact is that “The Authority’s” expenditures certainly will drive out some existing educational programs. This also includes some private tutors who display insufficient deference to “The Authority’s” demands.

Unsurprisingly, “The authority . . . shall pre-certify local school districts,” among others, to receive the funds in question. A recipient of the funds must carry “sufficient liability insurance as determined by the authority.” This will serve as yet another way to advantage teachers’ unions and drive out small competitors.

Also unsurprisingly, “Immediate family members are not eligible to be qualified providers in the provision of services to their child or youth.” Did you get that? As a mother or father, you are not “qualified” to teach your own child under this program, even if you have a Ph.D. in the subject matter, and even if you have reduced your household income to free up time to teach your kids. Meanwhile, the people responsible for abysmal academic performance at various public schools will get pre-certified.

True, within the context of “The Authority’s” (uh) authority, parents do have some control over the funds. And note here that the program prioritizes low-income families. Specifically, “The authority shall . . . create and develop criteria to establish and manage financial aid on behalf of parents and to compensate approved providers of learning opportunities for eligible uses specifically and independently chosen by parents and provided to an eligible child or youth.”

So, sure, so long as you meet “The Authority’s” “criteria” and are adequately “managed” by “The Authority,” you can choose whatever educational providers “The Authority” says you can use under this program, which certainly will not be you or your spouse. This is not what real freedom of choice looks like.

I agree we need to get serious about improving educational outcomes especially for disadvantaged children. Toward that end, we should give parents more control over existing tax dollars directed to education. Prop 119 relies on unjust discriminatory tax hikes to create a new permanent bureaucracy. We should empower parents, not some new bureaucratic authority.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism.  He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.

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