How to destroy an economy and waste tax dollars: Vote Yes on Props. 30 and 38

Oct. 22, 2012

By Mark Landsbaum

If you wanted to destroy an economy, what would be a good way to go about it?

You might take money from those who earn it. Can there be a more perverse disincentive than to take money from people on a progressive scale, such as California’s stair-stepped income tax rates? The more one earns, not only more is taken, but proportionately more. At some point, the earner will say, “Enough is enough” and conclude it’s not worth the effort to earn more.

Next, you might divert money from those who earned it to enrich others. The harder one works, the more one enriches someone else.

Welcome to California, where perverse disincentives abound, and where private-sector workers labor to enrich public-sector employees.

On the November ballot, Propositions 30 and 38 urge Californians to double down on this economy-killing formula by increasing their taxes, which already are among the nation’s highest and most progressive, in order to further enrich public sector workers.

If you wanted to concoct an excuse for such redistribution of wealth, from people who produce it to people who desire it, you might argue that it’s for a good cause. You might say that it’s “for the children.”

On the November ballot, Californians are told that, if they just inflict more of this economy-killing pain on themselves, they can improve public schools. Sure, turning over more of your hard-earned money is painful, but after all, it’s “for the children.” Buck up, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer. Your sacrifice will be for a good cause.

Money is fungible

If you wanted to bamboozle voters and taxpayers into buying this swindle, you definitely wouldn’t mention that money is fungible. Pouring more taxes into the pot is no guarantee it will benefit “the children,” despite disingenuous ballot arguments to the contrary. What is certain is that the benefit will go to California public-school teachers, who already are among the highest paid in the nation. And, of course, it will benefit their top-heavy school administrations, which teach nothing.

While bamboozling voters and taxpayers, you wouldn’t want to mention that no amount of money, short of paying for individual tutors for each of California’s 6 million public school children, will substantially improve what emerges at public high school graduations. Los Angeles public schools spent $25,208 per year per public school student, according to an analysis of all school spending conducted by Cato Center for Educational Freedom in 2010, even though the district reported spending only $10,053. Washington, D.C.’s public schools spent $28,170 per student.

(The fact that public schools grossly under-report how much of your tax money they spend per pupil ought to be a red flag to signal something’s amiss. As Cato author Adam Schaeffer explained in his study, school officials “believe certain expenditure categories should not count,” even though things like health and retirement benefits and debt service “are expenses borne by the taxpayer that are used to support the K-12 education system.”)

D.C. schools

If there exists a correlation between how much money is spent and educational outcome, District of Columbia kids ought to be far more accomplished than California kids. Instead, as economist Walter Williams points out, despite spending more money per student than any state, the District of Columbia “comes in dead last in terms of student achievement.”

While persuading voters and taxpayers to act against their own economic well being, you wouldn’t want to mention that the surest guarantee of a quality education is for a kid to come from a home where Mom and Dad read, and encourage junior and sis to do the same. You wouldn’t want to remind taxpayers and voters that no amount of tax increases will change home life for kids whose parents can’t speak English, or where parents don’t bother to instill a work ethic in their children because Mom and Dad didn’t develop one of their own.

It’s painful to admit that the greatest determiner of how kids do in school is their home life. At least it’s painful for public school employees to admit. But isn’t that what every grownup knows in his heart from personal experience and from the experience of public schools?

Californians could double or triple their tax burden and effectively grind the state’s economy to a halt, and pour every dime of it into public schools, and what would the outcome be? Kids still would resemble their parents.

It is no secret that the best public schools are located in the best neighborhoods. Sure, someone will object to this generalization by pointing out an exception here and there. But the fact that the exceptions are exceptions makes the point best of all.

Prop.s 30 and 38

What Props. 30 and 38 on the November ballot will do, if voters buy the spiel, is enrich public workers, most of them public school teachers and administrators. What the propositions won’t materially change is what emerges at high school graduation.

Indeed, these tax increases are extremely unlikely to measurably change the lives of children on path to drop out of school because they are acting out values they learn at home. Parents, and most tragically the lack of parents, particularly the lack of a father in the home, are the greatest determiners of kids’ educational success or failure. Not tax money.

Public school teachers will resist admitting this out loud, even though they are the first to protest that they shouldn’t be held accountable for kids who come to school unprepared to learn. Nevertheless, in the same breath they will insist they can do what the obscenely funded Washington, D.C., schools fail to do year in and year out — if only they can have more taxpayers’ money to do it with.

Don’t believe them.

Voters and taxpayers can take another step in November to dismantle California’s economy by voting to divert yet more of the private sector’s money to feed public schools’ insatiable appetite. Or they can reject the fatuous argument that it’s “for the children,” and say, “Enough is enough.”

Providing more money to a system that consistently fails to do what it is paid to do is unwise. Well-off communities don’t need more money for their well-off children to do well. And economically disadvantaged communities’ children won’t do well simply by pouring more money into their public schools.

Can public schools be improved? Not with more money. But perhaps kids’ education can be improved by letting parents use that money to shop for a better, private school. When vouchers are offered anywhere in the nation, the list of applicants far outstrips the available cash. If the product public schools sell must compete against private schools that can and do provide more for less, the competition will improve both.

The fact that so many parents intuitively recognize that they can improve their children’s lot by escaping the grip of public education speaks volumes. The fact that so many public schools refuse to free the children from their grip speaks volumes about what public schools really are all about.  And it’s not “for the children.”

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