Oct 272005
 
Authors: Vimal Patel

Americans nationwide are watching. Coloradans are watching even closer. But students – those who would be hit hardest in the event of a Referendums C and D defeat, seem apathetic about the measures on Tuesday's ballot.

"People don't take the time to learn the issues," said Ann Stecker, junior technical journalism major . "I know some people who haven't heard of C and D."

In fact, several students the Collegian interviewed were vaguely aware of C and D, but didn't plan on voting. After being explained what the measures would do, allow the state to spend an estimated $3.7 billion primarily on education, healthcare and road repair at the expense of about $491 per taxpayer over five years, some students said they were in favor of the measures, but still didn't think they were going to vote.

"A lot of students say, 'It's not really going to affect me so I'm not going to pay attention to it,'" said Zac Bryson, a sophomore construction management major . "But it will directly affect them."

Ivan Goskirk , a senior economics major, said it would take a lot of coaxing from friends to drag himself to the ballot box. But Goskirk said he has felt the budget pinch in the last few years. Tuition at CSU increased 15 percent this year, double the national average, yet still remains below the national average.

"I can't go out to eat as much," he said. "I can't spend as much on food anymore."

HIGHER EDUCATION HIT HARD

Gov. Bill Owens' budget director, Henry Sobanet , wrote in a memo to the governor that if C and D fail, the state would have to slash and eliminate programs to somehow save $365 million. The largest chunk would probably be cut from higher education, he wrote.

CSU President Larry Penley said earlier this semester that if C and D fail, CSU tuition could rise up to 50 percent.

Critics, however, say a tuition increase that large, or even nearly that large, is not going to happen and that Penley is doing what a lot of C and D proponents are doing: trying to scare voters.

"It obviously sounds like a scare tactic," said Chris Kinnan, a spokesman for FreedomWorks , the national tax-limitation organization co-chaired by former U.S. House majority leader Dick Armey. "Anytime anything's increasing at even double digits, there's a problem in (spending) priorities."

Penley did not respond to numerous messages and e-mails seeking comment about C and D.

Opponents of the ballot measures often acknowledge that the state will have to make deep cuts to balance future budgets, but say the cuts don't necessarily have to come from higher education.

The percentage of money the state spends on higher education has been slashed in half over 15 years. In fiscal year 1989-90, the state spent 20 percent of its budget on higher education institutions – colleges, community colleges and universities. The budget for fiscal year 2005-06, however, according to the state legislature Web site, is less than 10 percent.

In fact, higher education is the only sector that saw a decrease in its share of state funding. Corrections, Medicaid and K-12 education all saw an increase in the percentage of funding received.

Certain funding, such as K-12 expenditures, is mandated to increase. And cuts to prisons and corrections would be a hazard to public safety. This leaves higher education as the easiest budget to slash.

Higher education will probably have to be gutted by at least 20 percent, resulting in a $120 million cut, Sobanet wrote.

"The status quo menu of services and protections provided by the state are incompatible with the 'ratchet down' provision of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR)," according to the memo.

The ratchet clause of TABOR restricts state funding to the previous year's revenue plus population growth and inflation. In the event of an economic downturn, as in 2001, the state budget is restricted to that year's revenue plus population growth and inflation.

This means that as long as the ratchet remains in place, state spending could never increase beyond downturn levels.

Referendums C and D would suspend the ratchet for five years, at which point the new base from which funding is calculated would be the year in that five-year period that funding was highest.

SOCIALISM?

Some CSU students said it was a shame that higher education would have to take a hit in the event of a C and D defeat.

"I think it's in everyone's interest to have highly educated people," Stecker said. "The better education people have, the better the economy does, the better the standard of living…and the better it is for everyone."

Bill Gates was recently in Colorado, where he told an audience that one of the best ways to attract businesses to the state is to have an educated population.

Chris Speer, sophomore liberal arts major , agrees.

"Education is the key to success in the world," he said.

Opponents of the measures have asked why the average taxpayer, who may or may not be affected by higher education and other government services C and D would fund, should have to forfeit $491 in TABOR rebates over five years.

As TABOR author Douglas Bruce said, "When did we ever consent to all this socialist spending?…It's not in the Constitution."

John Straayer , political science professor, said those kinds of questions are "utter nonsense questions."

"Why should we be spending billions of dollars in Iraq? Will it impact me personally? No," he said. "The notion that every penny the government collects has to benefit someone personally is an argument for no government at all. The reason you pay taxes is to provide services that benefit everybody."

Bryson put the $491 estimate into perspective.

"Over five years, I don't think ($491) is a big deal at all," he said. "That's one week's paycheck for most people."

INEFFICIENCY?

Marc Johnson, dean of agricultural sciences , said tuition would increase whether C and D are approved or not, but at a significantly higher rate if the measures are defeated.

"As long as there a substantial amount of state funds coming, which would only be possible if C and D pass, then the tuition will not have to rise as fast," he said.

Critics often point to government inefficiency, including in higher education administration, as one place the state should trim spending before asking voters to forfeit more money.

Johnson said that inefficiency generally hasn't been a problem at CSU.

"We have a very responsible set of managers squeezing out inefficiencies," Johnson said, "but after you get a 20 percent reduction in your budget, if there were inefficiencies, they're gone now."

In addition to being dean of agricultural sciences, Johnson said, he's also the vice provost for agriculture and outreach and is filling in as interim director of Cooperative Extension.

In a financially healthy state, Johnson said, he should have only one of those jobs.

"Many of the administrators and faculty here are working multiple jobs," Johnson said. "We continue to try to serve our students; we continue to try to serve our off-campus constituents, but there are just fewer positions here to meet that demand."

SPEND NOW, SAVE LATER

The argument is often made that investing in road repair today is cheaper than replacing those roads later, that providing quality healthcare will be less costly than dealing with patients' medical problems as they get more severe, that investing in education is an investment in the future.

"Our state economy in the long run is very dependent on how many people we can get into higher education," said Rich Jones , director of policy and research at the Bell Policy Center, a pro-referendum group. "We're going to get that money repaid down the road."

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