States to Residents: Forget Promises to Restore School Funding
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Remapping Debate asked several state Republicans how they can justify enacting tax cuts during this session in light of their supposed reluctance to cut funding in past years.
Arizona State Representative Victor Williams said of proposed education cuts in 2010, “The good choice [versus] the bad choice doesn’t exist anymore. They’re all poor choices.”
When asked for this article why he did not choose to restore some of that funding this year, Williams said, “Because we are not out of the woods by any measure.”
And what about the money for tax cuts? “We think of [the cuts] as economic development,” he said, “and that’s our priority right now.” (See box at the end of this article titled “Rationales for further tax cuts.”)
In 2011, when Kansas Governor Sam Brownback cut more than $50 million from public schools, he said, “I wish we didn’t have to do this. It’s been difficult, but it’s something we need to do.”
Remapping Debate asked Brownback’s spokesperson, Sherriene Jones-Sontag, why, if he wished not to make the cuts in the first place, the Governor chose to reduce taxes this year instead of restoring those spending reductions, but the only answer she gave was that, “The Governor believes that the state government should live within its means.”
A new normal?
Other Republican advocates of tax cuts in the states were more forthright about their ultimate objectives.
Tommy Stringer, a Republican in the South Carolina House of Representatives, agreed. “Those who are calling for more money may be disappointed,” he said. “They’re assuming that we’re in 2007. But 2008 established a new baseline for everything, and we aren’t going back there.”
Owen Donohoe, a Republican state representative in Kansas, said that he saw the income tax cuts there as a step on the path to abolishing the tax altogether. “The faster we can get those rates to zero, the better,” he said.
Though he firmly believes that the tax cuts passed this year will actually lead to higher revenues, an assessment not shared by many independent analysts, he admitted that if that were to happen, he still wouldn’t use that increased revenue to backfill the cuts that have been made since the recession.
“Then we would be able to afford more tax cuts,” he said. “I’d like to make this government as small as I can.”
Donohoe characterized the current level of services being provided in Kansas as “adequate,” an assessment shared by several Republican legislators in other states. John Kavanagh, who sits on the appropriations committee in the Arizona House of Representatives, said that he does not think the cuts there have done very much harm.
“It doesn’t seem to me that they’ve caused people to struggle that much, so I don’t see why we should be spending more” he said.
But Scott Smith, the Republican Mayor of Mesa, Arizona, disagreed. “Some of our state leaders seem to believe that when they cut programs, the need for those programs disappears, too,” he said. “It doesn’t disappear. When you cut funding for homeless veterans, those veterans are still there.”
Smith pointed out that while state legislators have the ability to “abdicate” the responsibility for delivering services onto local governments, local governments have no such option. “We are the last line,” he said. “If we’re not providing services, then people aren’t getting them, period.” (See bottom box on giving local governments more flexibility to raise revenue.)
But several state lawmakers said that wasn’t their problem. “It isn’t the state’s responsibility to bail out the cities and towns,” said Arizona Representative Victor Williams. “They need to figure this out on their own.”