Sasse: Vote Questions If Higher Taxes Result In Better Schools

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

 

View Larger +

The bellwether election this year was not the gubernatorial contests in either New Jersey or Virginia. Rather it was the overwhelming defeat of Amendment 66 in Colorado. Voters in the Centennial State took a sledgehammer to this school and tax reform ballot initiative and defeated it by a two to one margin.

Amendment 66 was the focus of progressives nationwide. Proponents raised $10 million to promote its passage. This included $1 million each from the Gates Foundation and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It was aggressively supported by the Governor, the Democratic controlled legislature, teacher unions and others in the educational establishment.

Amendment 66 asked Colorado voters to approve an income tax increase to finance what arguably would have been the most comprehensive school reform program in recent memory.

This ballot initiative would have increased the State’s flat income tax rate of 4.6% to 5.0% for residents with taxable incomes below $75,000, and to 5.9% for those with taxable incomes above $75,000. The cost to the average Colorado family from this tax increase was estimated to total $133 per year. By way of comparison, Rhode Island’s top income tax rate is 5.99% for incomes over $133,250.

The new revenue stream would have been dedicated to fund a variety of educational programs. These included: preschool activities, full-day kindergartens, English –language learners programs, state- of- the -art classroom technology as well as locally determined innovations. It also promised greater funding for charter schools and initiatives to foster school accountability and effectiveness. The cost for this wish list was $950 million.

The landslide rejection of this measure contains an important teaching moment for Rhode Island’s policy makers, educators, business leaders and public sector unions.

The primary lesson to gleam is that most voters did not believe that spending more money on education would automatically translate into better student performance. This should resonate in the Ocean State where there is an achievement-expenditure deficit. According to the National Education Association, in 2012 Rhode Island’s K-12 spending per enrolled student ranked fifth highest in the United States--54% above the national average. At the same time Rhode Island students’ scores on the “Nations Report Card“, approximated the US average. The Providence Journal reported, “According to National Assessment of Educational Progress, however, Rhode Island’s 2013 scores are not considered significantly different from the national average, except in fourth grade reading.” While there have been student proficiency gains, there is still room for improvement. Since 2011 the achievement gap for reading between majority and minority fourth graders grew from 20 to 30 points. Rhode Island also continues to trail the other New England states in nearly every test category. There certainly is not parity between what Rhode Islanders invest in education and student performance.

The second lesson is the need to set realistic and limited priorities. Amendment 66 did not set priorities by focusing on the most critical needs of Colorado’s students. In making public policy successful changes generally happen in small wins. Remember that you eat an elephant one bite at a time.

A third lesson is the need to get buy-in from the business community. This did not happen in Colorado’s failed attempt to enact Amendment 66. The business community appeared to be more interested in opposing an income tax increase than investing in children. Business organizations did not speak with one voice. Some major business groups did not take a position while others either supported or opposed the education ballot question.

View Larger +

What position would the Ocean State’s business leaders take if a governor proposed to increase the state income tax by one half of a percent on taxable incomes over $500,000 to help close the performance gap in our inner cities? Their reaction could speak volumes about corporate responsibility.

The school reform effort also ran aground because of a growing lack of confidence in our democratic institutions. Events beyond Colorado’s borders made it difficult to enact new and expansive government programs. The shutdown of the federal government and the fiasco known as ObamaCare have contributed to voter cynicism about the ability of government at all levels to be part of the solution. In Rhode Island a Brown University poll reported that 63% believe that the State is headed in the wrong direction. Timing is an important tactical consideration when proposing transformational changes in public policy.

Finally, the Amendment 66 experience warns us to be cautious about distributional politics. Aligned with Amendment 66 was a plan to modify the school funding mechanism. While equitable school funding should be a state constitutional right, the New York Times noted that “both Democrats and Republicans were leery of raising their own taxes to finance struggling schools in poorer districts.”

Rhode Island may under-perform in the 21st century economy unless it commits resources to quality programs aimed at giving our future workforce the tools necessary to succeed. Learning from the Amendment 66 debacle will require the following:

  • Leadership that sets a limited number of priorities that are focused on transparent performance standards and measurable results,
  • Leadership that can organize disparate special interests to collectively solve problems by reaching compromises,
  • Private sector institutions that are not wedded to the past and will invest in transformational changes, not just talk about them.

Perhaps most importantly we must recognize that our political process has evolved into a denial of our problems thereby making the evasion of remedies easier. In 2014 we must elect a governor and other leaders who will break this paradigm. As Abraham Lincoln so aptly said; “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.”

Gary Sasse is Founding Director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University. He is the former Executive Director Rhode Island Public Expenditure and Director of the Departments of Administration and Revenue.

 

Related Slideshow: Top 25 Most Dangerous Workplaces in Rhode Island

View Larger +
Prev Next

#25

Microfibres, Inc.

Location: Pawtucket

Business Type: Broadwoven Fabric Mills

Number of Initial Violations: 5

Number of Serious Violations: 2

Areas of Violation: Industrial trucks, personnal protection, respiratory protection, hazard communication

Initial Penalty: $6,800

Case Status: Closed

View Larger +
Prev Next

#24

K & J Construction, Inc.

Location: Cranston

Business Type: Residential Remodelers

Number of Initial Violations: 5

Number of Serious Violations: 4

Areas of Violation: General requirements, training

Initial Penalty: $8,400

Case Status: Payment Plan

View Larger +
Prev Next

#23

Manchester Tree And Lanscaping Service, Inc.

Location: Middletown

Business Type: Landscaping Services

Number of Initial Violations: 5

Number of Serious Violations: 3

Areas of Violation: Work platforms, head protection, foot protection

Initial Penalty: $8,400

Case Status: Closed

View Larger +
Prev Next

#22

Colonial Mills, Inc

Location: Pawtucket

Business Type: Carpet and Rug Mills

Number of Initial Violations: 4

Number of Serious Violations: 2

Areas of Violation: Machine requirements, hazard communication

Initial Penalty: $8,470

Case Status: Payment Plan

View Larger +
Prev Next

#21

Green Tech Assets, LLC

Location: Cumberland

Business Type: Non-hazardous Waste Treatment and Disposal

Number of Initial Violations: 7

Number of Serious Violations: 7

Areas of Violation: Guarding floor, industrial trucks, wiring

Initial Penalty: $8,800

Case Status: Closed

View Larger +
Prev Next

#20

Nursing Home Services Inc.

Location: Riverside

Business Type: Commercial Laundry, Drycleaning, and Pressing Machine Manufacturing

Number of Initial Violations: 9

Number of Serious Violations: 9

Areas of Violation: Exit routes, bloodborne pathogens, hazard communication, eye and face protection, medical services and first aid

Initial Penalty: $9,200

Case Status: On payment plan

View Larger +
Prev Next

#19

Grinnell Cabinet Makers, Inc.

Location: Cranston

Business Type: Millwork

Number of Initial Violations: 5

Number of Serious Violations: 3

Areas of Violation: Tools and equipment, wiring design, hazard communication, industrial trucks

Initial Penalty: $9,800

Case Status: Closed

View Larger +
Prev Next

#18

Albaco Realty

Location: Cranston

Business Type: Industrial Building Construction

Number of Initial Violations: 9

Number of Serious Violations: 8

Areas of Violation: Scaffolding, ladders, training

Initial Penalty: $10,400

Case Status: Closed

View Larger +
Prev Next

#17

Mouldcam

Location: Bristol

Business Type: Composite Digital Fabrication

Number of Initial Violations: 10

Number of Serious Violations: 9

Areas of Violation: Scaffolding, medical services and first aid, respiratory protection, wiring design, hazard communication

Initial Penalty: $10,800

Case Status: Abatement pending, on payment plan

View Larger +
Prev Next

#16

Veolia Water North America Operating Services, LLC

Location: Cranston

Business Type: Non-hazardous Waste Treatment and Disposal

Number of Initial Violations: 11

Number of Serious Violations: 2

Areas of Violation: Respiratory protection, medical services and first aid, machine requirements, wiring design, exit routes, occupational noise exposure, hazardous waste operations, control of hazardous energy

Initial Penalty: $12,750

Case Status: Closed

View Larger +
Prev Next

#15

Atlantic Capes Fisheries, Inc.

Location: Bristol

Business Type: Fresh and Frozen Seafood Processing

Number of Initial Violations: 5

Number of Serious Violations: 3

Areas of Violation: Control of hazardous energy, hazard communication

Initial Penalty: $12,870

Case Status: Closed

View Larger +
Prev Next

#14

Barlo Signs

Location: Warwick

Business Type: Sign Manufacturing

Number of Initial Violations: 6

Number of Serious Violations: 1

Areas of Violation: Wiring design, fall protection, training

Initial Penalty: $14,630

Case Status: On payment plan
 

View Larger +
Prev Next

#13

Kindred Healthcare DBA Chestnut Terrace Nursing And Rehabilitation Center

Location: East Providence

Business Type: Nursing Care Facilities

Number of Initial Violations: 6

Number of Serious Violations: 6

Areas of Violation: Eye and face protection, hazardous energy, training, personnel protection

Initial Penalty: $14,854

Case Status: Abatement pending

View Larger +
Prev Next

#12

Gem Plumbing and Heating, Inc.

Location: Providence

Business Type: Plumbing, Heating, and Air-Conditioning Contractors

Number of Initial Violations: 4

Number of Serious Violations: 2

Areas of Violation: Training, asbestos

Initial Penalty: $15,000

Case Status: Closed

View Larger +
Prev Next

#11

Richard Mayo, Sr.

Location: Westerly

Business Type: Roofing Contractors

Number of Initial Violations: 11

Number of Serious Violations: 11

Areas of Violation: Fall protection, training, and ladders

Initial Penalty: $16,000

Case Status: Abatement and payment pending

View Larger +
Prev Next

#10

New Providence Properties, LLC

Location: Providence

Business Type: Residential Remodelers

Number of Initial Violations: 11

Number of Serious Violations: 11

Areas of Violation: Fall protection, ladders, asbestos

Initial Penalty: $16,920

Case Status: Abatement and payment pending

View Larger +
Prev Next

#9

Lincoln Construction

Location: Portsmouth

Business Type: Roofing Contractors

Number of Initial Violations: 7

Number of Serious Violations: 6

Areas of Violation: Ladders, training requirements, fall protection

Initial Penalty: $17,920

Case Status: Abatement and payment pending

View Larger +
Prev Next

#8

H & R Builders and Renovation, LLC

Location: Providence

Business Type: Residential Remodelers

Number of Initial Violations: 7

Number of Serious Violations: 7

Areas of Violation: Wiring, fall protection, training

Initial Penalty: $18,000

Case Status: Abatement and payment pending

View Larger +
Prev Next

#7

Hk&S Construction Holding Corp.

Location: Newport

Business Type: Other Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction

Number of Initial Violations: 5

Number of Serious Violations: 5

Areas of Violation: Working over or near water, rigging equipment, protective systems

Initial Penalty: $19,530

Case Status: Some violations being contested

View Larger +
Prev Next

#6

Jose Family Construction

Location: Providence

Business Type: Roofing Contractors

Number of Initial Violations: 6

Number of Serious Violations: 3

Areas of Violation: Fall protection, training, head protection

Initial Penalty: $21,120

Case Status: Abatement pending, penalty in debt collection

View Larger +
Prev Next

#5

Norman Sanville, Jr.

Location: Johnston

Business Type: Miscellaneous Wood Product Manufacturing

Number of Initial Violations: 12

Number of Serious Violations: 12

Areas of Violation: Woodworking machinery requirements, wiring

Initial Penalty: $21,600

Case Status: Abatement pending, in debt collection

View Larger +
Prev Next

#4

Rosco Manufacturing, LLC

Location: Newport

Business Type: Water and Sewer Line and Related Structures Construction

Number of Initial Violations: 18

Number of Serious Violations: 14

Areas of Violation: Protective systems, working over or near water, rigging systems, medical services and first aid, hazard communication, occupational noise exposure, respiratory protection, exit routes, industrial trucks, training, control of hazardous energy

Initial Penalty: $28,700

Case Status: Abatement pending, on payment plan

View Larger +
Prev Next

#3

Quarles Ii, Inc.

Location: Woonsocket

Business Type: Clothing Store

Number of Initial Violations: 9

Number of Serious Violations: 9

Areas of Violation: Exit routes, portable fire extinguishers, industrial trucks

Initial Penalty: $31,500

Case Status: Debt Collection

View Larger +
Prev Next

#2

Monarch Metal Finishing Co., Inc.

Location: Providence

Business Type: Electroplating, Plating, Polishing, Anodizing, and Coloring

Number of Initial Violations: 19

Number of Serious Violations: 18

Areas of Violation: Occupational noise exposure, flammable and combustible liquids, hazardous waste, eye and face protection, respiratory protection, medical services and first aid, portable fire extinguishers, industrial trucks, hazard communication

Initial Penalty: $36,540

Case Status: On payment plan

View Larger +
Prev Next

#1

Stone Systems Of New England LLC

Location: Slatersville

Business Type: Cut Stone and Stone Product Manufacturing

Number of Initial Violations: 10

Number of Serious Violations: 9

Areas of Violation: Respiratory protection, air contaminants, hazard communication, occupational noise exposure

Initial Penalty: $54,000

Case Status: Abatement pending, on payment plan

 
 

Enjoy this post? Share it with others.

 
 

Sign Up for the Daily Eblast

I want to follow on Twitter

I want to Like on Facebook

Delivered Free Every
Day to Your Inbox