One has to wonder who thought Proposition FF was a good idea: A $100 million per year tax increase on Coloradans in order to give “free” school lunches to middle-class, upper-middle-class, and rich kids.
The tax increase would be imposed by reducing available deductions (whether through standardized or itemized deductions) for anyone earning over $300,000 a year, effectively raising the marginal tax rate on an estimated 114,000 Colorado tax returns.
Let’s consider a few points:
- Poor kids already get free lunch
- Families that are doing fine financially can make their own decisions about whether their student even wants school lunch versus bringing their own lunch or, as both of my kids at two different public high schools do, going to a nearby supermarket or shop to get lunch because, according to them, the school-provided lunches just aren’t very good.
- Why should a family earning $300,000 per year pay for the “free” lunch for a family earning $250,000 (or even $100,000) per year?
- This eliminates any state-tax-based incentive for charitable giving by the people who give the most to Colorado non-profits.
Proponents of this measure argue that hungry kids get worse grades, but middle-class-and-above kids aren’t hungry unless they want to be. And, while the plural of anecdote is not data, my own kids have frequently made the choice of skipping lunch rather than eating the school lunch when those were the choices. I’m sure that hungry kids do get worse grades – but not based on whether you’re hungry for a few hours in the middle of the day. Rather, kids who are persistently hungry surely do worse in school. But middle-class-and-above kids are NOT persistently hungry. They can reliably have breakfast, snacks and dinner. For poor kids, school lunch might be one of their only reliable meals. But again, their lunch is already free.
Supporters argue that it’s embarrassing for the free-lunch kids. I’m not there but color me skeptical. I’m guessing that kids don’t know if other kids’ lunches are free. But even if they did, is that a reason to say “let’s solve the problem by stealing $100 million every year from the other kids’ parents”? I think not.
States compete aggressively to be an appealing destination for business formation or, as politicians would put it, for new jobs. The people who create new jobs by starting or expanding businesses are usually hoping to be financially successful and enjoy the rewards of the significant risks, stress, and hard work of building a business. Yet supporters of FF want to say “if you become successful in Colorado, we’re going to tax you more in order to pay for lunch for a middle-class kid whose family can afford lunch if the student even wants it.”
Proposition FF also includes incentives to use more local Colorado food. That’s a nice sentiment but it is likely to raise the cost of school lunches. FF will also require school districts to add employees whose job it is to track compliance with its various provisions. Proposition FF will add to an already bloated school system bureaucracy.
People who make over $300,000 are the people who can give $1,000 or $5,000 or $50,000 to charity…including to charities that help kids. It’s not just the extra financial incentive of saving several percent of that amount by deducting the contribution on your state tax return, though that is something for potential donors who may be on the fence about a particular donation. It’s also about the fact that plenty of people, including yours truly, take a little pleasure, see it as an additional benefit, to know that my contribution to a non-profit reduces what I send to government. In the past, Hawaii and North Carolina passed limits on deductions but then had to exempt charitable contributions. Even tender-hearted liberals for whom “free lunch for all kids” sounds good should recognize that Proposition FF will likely do significant harm to charities around the state.
Finally, if more money is to go into schools, who’s to say that free lunch for kids who can already afford lunch is the best way? Let school districts make their own decisions on their best use of limited funds.
When it comes to Proposition FF, the right response is “Not just ‘NO’, but ‘HELL NO!’”
Ross Kaminsky hosts “The Ross Kaminsky Show” weekdays from 9 AM to noon on KOA Radio.
Our unofficial motto at Complete Colorado is “Always free, never fake, ” but annoyingly enough, our reporters, columnists and staff all want to be paid in actual US dollars rather than our preferred currency of pats on the back and a muttered kind word. Fact is that there’s an entire staff working every day to bring you the most timely and relevant political news (updated twice daily) from around the state on Complete’s main page aggregator, as well as top-notch original reporting and commentary on Page Two.
CLICK HERE TO LADLE A LITTLE GRAVY ON THE CREW AT COMPLETE COLORADO. You’ll be giving to the Independence Institute, the not-for-profit publisher of Complete Colorado, which makes your donation tax deductible. But rest assured that your giving will go specifically to the Complete Colorado news operation. Thanks for being a Complete Colorado reader, keep coming back.