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The presidential election is a year away, but this November’s election is still important. If you care about education there is one vote that you absolutely should make.
Vote Yes on Prop CC.
What is Prop CC? It effectively repeals TABOR, described below. Here is the official ballot language, from the Secretary of State’s office:
“Without raising taxes and to better fund public schools, higher education, and roads, bridges, and transit, within a balanced budget, may the state keep and spend all the revenue it annually collects after June 30, 2019, but is not currently allowed to keep and spend under Colorado law, with an annual audit to show how the retained revenues are spent?”
That’s right, the issue is whether we can keep the money we’ve raised from taxes we’ve passed so that we can fund public education and transportation. How much extra money will we get? According to the non-partisan Legislative Council Staff of the State of Colorado, our public schools, public education and public transportation will each get $103 million extra in funding – money that we’ve already collected from approved taxes – during the 2020-2021 budget year.
Colorado currently ranks 48 in state funding for higher education, spending 11.1% less per full-time student than we did a decade ago. The University of Colorado Boulder, the flagship campus of the four-school University of Colorado System, gets less than 5% of its funding from the state. Prop CC alone won’t fix everything, but it will make a difference.
Why are things so bad, and why do we have to vote to be able to spend the money we already voted to raise? Tax-Payer Bill of Rights, or TABOR. The basics are that TABOR limits (among other things) who can raise taxes, when we can even vote on taxes and how much of the taxes that we already voted for can be kept by the state. Further, the Denver Post explains that “the formula used to calculate how many tax dollars a government can keep doesn’t keep up with the growth in the cost of maintaining services — effectively creating an ongoing tax cut.”
Doing away with TABOR is a necessity for increasing funding to important aspects of Colorado, and CU could use a lot more state funding.
If the state treated CU as a public university by actually funding us, tuition wouldn’t be so painfully high. Boulder’s tuition ranges from $28,478 for in-state students in the Arts & Sciences to $57,388 for out-of-state students in Engineering. According to USA Today, the average cost of a public college education nationally in 2018 was only $21,370, and unlike the CU listed numbers above, that includes fees, room and board!
Better state funding could drastically reduce the financial burden on students, a burden that disproportionately hurts nonwhite students. As Inside Higher Ed reports, increases in tuition at public universities correlate with a decrease in diversity. And due in large part to the racial wealth gap, Black students take on and keep significantly more debt than their White peers.
Beyond tuition, better funding for CU could drastically impact the lived experience for many. For example, the Wardenburg Health Center is only open five days a week, yet is the one place where most of our insurance is taken. And sometimes students need medical care on the weekend. Relatedly, the Daily Camera recently reported on how long wait times for mental health care was harming students, something that could be addressed with more funding for more mental health professionals. As my colleague, Savannah Mather, recently addressed, even parking on campus is financially straining — you shouldn’t have to pay even more money just to get to class! These are just a few of the many examples of how CU could benefit from additional state funding.
Prop CC would be good for higher education generally, but also CU in particular. Yet, CU refuses to endorse it. This is in contrast to both the Colorado State University system and Metropolitan State University (Metro State). CSU chairwoman Nancy Tuor explains that “(o)ur interest is one in making an excellent college education affordable for incoming students, and for students who do need to take on debt, to take on the least amount of debt possible.”
What makes these institutions of higher education different from CU? Partisan politics.
As noted during the flustercluck of a fiasco of hiring Mark Kennedy as CU President last year, the CU system is one of about four systems in the country that elect regents through the partisan process. Unsurprisingly, Regents elected through this system might care more about their partisan views than what is best for the University of Colorado system, and as such not be able to unanimously support such a proposal despite clearly being in the interest of the University of Colorado.
To his credit – and regular readers of the CUI will know this is hard for me to say – new CU President Mark Kennedy publicly endorses Prop CC. However, he is in public conflict with Regent-at-Large Heidi Ganahl, who is helping lead the charge against Prop CC. While Ganahl has the right to support the political causes she believes in, it says something when one of the nine folks who are in charge of CU are actively working against arguably the best way to help CU. Don’t forget we elect Regents, with an election for our CD2 Regent next fall, and Ganahl’s At-Large seat in 2022. We should make our voices heard both to pass Prop CC and to elect Regents who care about higher education more than partisan politics.
If you value the possibility of getting an extra ~$20 back in “excess” taxes over funding core state institutions like higher education and transportation, vote no. But if you care about your fellow Buffs, if you care about higher education generally or if you just care about the well-being of other Coloradans, the choice is obvious: Vote Yes on Prop CC.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Alex Wolf-Root at firstname.lastname@example.org.