Guest opinion: The false promises behind proposed amendments

Wade Buchanan and Auden Schendler
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Apparently the proponents of Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 think school budgets can defy gravity. How else can one explain their absolutely ludicrous claim that these ballot measures won’t hurt our schools, throw teachers out of work and increase class sizes across the state? They will – and here’s why.

Amendment 60 will cut local support for schools in half by 2020 (a current value of $1.5 billion) but promises us the state budget will make up the difference so that schools won’t lose a thing. That’s a false promise, because at the same time Proposition 101 will cut revenues to the state general fund more than 22 percent (a current value of $1.65 billion) – the same fund we are told will backfill for the local cuts. And Amendment 61 will cut general fund revenues further as the state pays off existing debt and has to lower taxes.

So while we shrink the general fund more than 25 percent, from $7 billion down to $5.1 billion in current terms, we will increase its obligation to schools almost 50 percent, from $3.18 billion up to $4.7 billion in current terms.

Now, $5.1 billion is more than $4.7 billion, so mathematically maybe it’s possible to do all of this without cutting schools. But legally, economically and morally, it is not.

We are legally obligated to have a court system, and we have to feed and house prisoners. That costs the general fund $980 million a year.

We aren’t legally obligated to have community and state colleges and universities, but we would be committing economic suicide if we didn’t. They cost the general fund $645 million a year.

We could opt out of Medicaid – the health-care program for low-income and disabled Coloradans. That would save us $1.23 billion a year, but we would lose more than that in federal matching dollars and throw more than 500,000 Coloradans into the ranks of the uninsured.

And we could save $640 million a year by eliminating human service programs. But we would lose federal matching money there as well, and we would be eliminating the Division of Child Welfare, Mental Health and Alcohol and Drug Abuse services, the Division of Youth Corrections and Services for People with Disabilities, which collectively use more than 75 percent of those dollars.

We can’t run half of state programs and services – which currently costs us $3.5 billion – on $400 million a year. If these ballot measures pass, we will be cutting schools, no matter what the proponents believe. We simply cannot change reality by making basic mathematics unconstitutional.

The truth is, if these three pass, a lot of bad things will happen. Teachers will be fired, class sizes will increase, extracurricular activities will be eliminated, school bus service will be cut. Meanwhile, some community colleges will close, tuition will skyrocket, our roads and bridges will continue to fall into disrepair, our courts and prisons will be more crowded, and much more.

Schools can’t defy gravity, and we don’t want to try to make them. That’s why we all need to vote “no” on Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 this November.