New Tax, Tenure, Budget Plans Seen Necessary
In the early weeks of the new legislative season, the principal topic in statehouses around the nation continued to be finances. (See related story on page 6.) Among the developments:
Colorado's education leaders have reacted angrily to charges made earlier this month by Gov. Richard D. Lamm that "there is something desperately wrong with our educational system."
In both his state-of-the-state message to the legislature and his inaugural address a few days later, Governor Lamm called for improved science and mathematics teaching and criticized the concept of tenure for teachers.
"Our emphasis on teaching our children mathematics and science--the intellectual tools of the future--seems to be woefully inadequate," the Governor said as he began his third four-year term.
"Too many teachers are rewarded for seniority rather than for excellence," he charged, adding that "our public-school system is not succeeding."
Gordon E. Heaton, president of the Colorado Education Association, the state's largest teacher organization, said too many teachers are rewarded for neither seniority nor excellence. Some Colorado teachers, he said, earn as little as $16,000 annually after 15 or 20 years of experience.
Commissioner of Education Calvin M. Frazier noted that since 1976 the performance of Colorado high-school students on the mathematics and science portions of college-entrance examinations has been improving. In the wake of the reactions, Governor Lamm said that within a few weeks he will make specific proposals for improving Colorado's schools.
Declaring that providing education of high quality is the "first responsibility" of state government, Gov. John V. Evans urged the Idaho legislature in his state-of-the-state address this month to support a permanent one-cent hike in the state sales tax.
"Idaho has been fortunate to have teachers, administrators, and school boards who have stretched every dollar practically into two," he said. "But just as there is no fat left to cut out of state government, there are no frills left to cut out of education."
Governor Evans, a Democrat, said that despite its fiscal problems, the state must "provide evidence" of its commitment to excellence in education if it is to attract much-needed new industries.
Half the proceeds of the sales-tax increase, the Governor said, would go to local governments in a "no-strings-attached" revenue-sharing package, and the other half would go to education. The measure would raise an estimated $135 million to cover Idaho's projected deficit of $117 million for the biennium.
It would also soften the impact of the "50-50" property-tax exemption approved by voters last fall. The referendum, whose enactment some legislators are expected to oppose on fiscal grounds, would allow property owners to claim a tax exemption for 50 percent or $50,000 of the value of their property.
Governor Evans has said he would resist legislative attempts to delay enactment of the exemption, but he told local reporters this month that he had not been briefed on the measure's possible impact on schools.
Many educators, including Jerry Evans, superintendent of schools in Boise, argue that the exemption would simply shift the tax burden to businesses and agriculture, deeply cutting into local school budgets in the process. The basic problem, they add, is that the state's whole taxation and budgeting structure needs overhauling.
In November, Gov. James R. Thompson announced that state revenues for this year would fall $200 million short of the state's $14-billion budget total. The Governor ordered a 2-percent budget cut to eliminate $158 million of the deficit. General operating funds for education were slashed $42.3 million.
But this month, the Governor's staff and the Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission disclosed that because the state economy has not revived, there will be an additional $190-million to $200-million shortfall.
Governor Thompson is expected to announce his plan to offset the additional deficit--possibly through a tax hike or further cuts to state programs, including education--when he presents his state-of-the-state address to the legislature in February.
Meanwhile, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees last week filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court seeking a temporary restraining order blocking the Governor from instituting the initial $158-million cuts. The groups claim that a law passed last December enabling Gov. Thompson to make the cuts is unconstitutional.
In Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad has inherited a $1.8-billion budget that is unconstitutionally out of balance.
Mr. Branstad will make his budget pro for 1983-84 this week. A mandated state-funding formula for education will increase per-pupil expenditures by 6.1 percent next year, and the state allocation for
South Carolina, which faced a number of across-the-board budget cuts last year, including a 4.6-percent cut in October, now faces an additional 3.1-percent cut to all programs to eliminate a $150-million budget deficit. Education programs are short $70 million.
The anticipated budget shortfall for the year to begin July 1 is about $85 million.
Gov. Richard Riley is considering raising the sales tax from 4 percent to 5 percent to shrink the large deficit, but educators are concerned that the money would be used to roll back property taxes or to replenish general funds and would not be earmarked for education.
About $700 million--or 38 percent--of the state's $2-billion budget goes to schools.
Five years ago, the state imposed a new education-finance system that gave education a position of top priority in the state budget. But educators charge that in the last two years financial exigency and across-the-board cuts have indicated that the state is abandoning its special concern for schools.
Gov. Richard A. Snelling, who works with one of the nation's smaller and healthier state budgets, has proposed raising state spending next year by an average of 6.1 percent.
He told the legislature that his proposed $352-million general-fund budget would include an increase of 6 percent in state aid to school districts and higher education.
Governor Snelling also proposed a 14-percent increase in the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation loan program.
Gov. Charles Robb, a Democrat who maintains that education is a "top priority" of his administration but is facing a $305-million deficit, has recommended a package of education cuts that would trim more than $100 million from the 1982-84 biennium budget.
In a televised address before the state legislature, Governor Robb requested an across-the-board pay freeze for state employees; a 6-percent cut in the budgets of all state agencies except health and welfare; and several cuts in the general education fund.
The Governor asked for an 18-month freeze on capital expenditures for schools that would save an estimated $53 million.
He also proposed: cutting $20 million next year from the $596-million basic-aid program, lowering the increase in the personnel budget from its mandated 10 percent to 3.6 percent next year, and cutting $11.1 million from education's one-third share of the state's sales-tax revenues.
West Virginia public schools were spared the harshest budget news in Gov. John D. Rockefeller IV's state-of-the-state address Jan. 12, but education had its share of disappointments in the Governor's $1.36 billion 1983-84 budget.
Governor Rockefeller, facing a $91-million deficit for the current fiscal year, ordered a 10-percent cut in the budget of all departments except the public schools, which will be reduced by only 4 percent.
The Governor recommended a $123-million tax package including hikes in the state income tax for families earning more than $30,000 and a 5-percent increase in the state sales tax on gasoline.
He pledged to seek a $15-million increase in funding to elementary and secondary schools in next year's budget, but told teachers and service personnel that for the second year in a row they, together with all state workers, could not expect a pay raise.
Officials of the West Virginia Education Association predicted that the lack of a pay raise would mean that the ranking of teachers' salaries in West Virginia would drop from 44th in the nation this year to 50th next year.
Martha Matzke, Sheppard Ranbom, and Correspondents John Chaffee and Mark Ward contributed to this report.
Vol. 02, Issue 18