OPINION: Legislature Needs to Fully Fund K-12 Education

The Colorado Legislature again will be struggling to balance the budget and it looks like they will do it again on the back of K-12 education, by decreasing the Amendment 23 Constitutionally-mandated spending requirement through the loophole of the “negative factor”. The “negative factor” was the brainchild of Governor Ritter and the Democrat controlled legislature in 2009. It is a way for the Legislature to get around the 2000 Amendment 23 that requires a K-12 spending increase of the inflation rate annually. The Governor and Legislature have shorted schools since 2009 by approximately $875 million and the proposal is to increase the “negative factor ” by an additional $145 million this year.

To make up for this shortfall, many school districts have gone to an increased tax on property owners. The Durango and Bayfield School districts passed property tax initiatives in 2016. However, not all districts can pass a property tax increase — and is it fair to increase property taxes to do what the State should be doing?

In 2011, the economy rebounded and enough revenues were available to fully fund K-12. Then in 2013, another Democrat-controlled legislature increased the eligibility for Medicaid with no plan as to how to pay for the increase in cost. Medicaid is an entitlement, which means that the sSolving the tate pays for it no matter what revenues are. K-12 is the easy place to find money for Medicaid.

I believe the Legislature has some other options, rather than take money from K-12:

1.  They must roll back the eligibility for Medicaid. Today 25% of Coloradans are eligible for Medicaid. We all want to help folks, but Medicaid spending in Colorado today is not sustainable. (I will be severely criticized for wanting to take services away from the poor. Does anyone believe that 25% of Coloradans are poor?)

2.  There are and have been in the past pet projects of legislators that should not necessarily be a priority over K-12 funding. Every spending item should be looked at and appropriate cuts be made.

3.  There are numerous costly and useless State and federal mandates on schools that must be repealed.

4.  The Hospital Provider Fee should be made an “enterprise”. The Hospital Provider Fee is a federal subsidy that backfills a hospital’s requirement to provide Medicaid services for 42 cents of every $1 of cost and for the cost of providing services for every person that comes in the emergency room door. Today the revenue for this fee is counted in the General Fund budget and triggers a taxpayer refund. This complicates the budget process and further restricts money that could go to K-12. As a conservative, it makes no sense to me to use a federal subsidy for a tax refund.

5. I do not believe that we should or need to increase taxes for K-12 funding.

I understand that the Legislature has to make some tough decisions. I wish them well.

J. Paul Brown

J. Paul Brown was “blessed to be raised by two wonderful parents on a farm straddling the Colorado – New Mexico state line” and married his sweetheart, Debbie, on December 4, 1976. He formerly served as Representative for Colorado’s 59th District.