Scrambling to offset the damage the recent funding fiasco has dealt his administration, Dr. Penley, in one of his many attempts to redeem himself in the eyes of the student body and community at large, has resorted to attacking Gov. Ritter’s stance on higher education funding.
Since we don’t receive emails in bulk from the governor, I thought it would benefit the student body to know his actual position on higher education funding. I will, therefore, reserve passing further judgment on Dr. Penley for another sunny day and make Gov. Ritter the subject of this article.
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a Rotary luncheon in which Gov. Ritter was the keynote speaker. At the time, news had not yet broken regarding CSU’s funding debacle. In hindsight, the governor’s speech not only sheds light on his general philosophy concerning higher education funding, but also neutralizes many unfounded critiques coming out of the Penley camp.
It should be noted that the governor was very forthcoming about the budget crisis in higher education. He placed emphasis on how TABOR and the recession of 2001-2002 had translated to significant cuts in education.
In order to ameliorate these adverse effects, the governor has proposed increasing public spending on higher education by more than 7 percent this year alone. However, as Gov. Ritter rightly admitted, this is not enough. Therefore, one must consider other ways in which universities in Colorado can catch up.
One option is increasing tuition, to which the Governor objected by stating, “But I have been very stubborn about how we (improve universities) with respect to tuition because I think we should not try to catch up on the backs of the middle class.” I would add that we should not try to catch up on the backs of the poorest class either, the ones who would be affected by this more than anybody.
Gov. Ritter believes there are other alternatives to increasing tuition. One of those would be eliminating TABOR’s 6 percent spending cap, which has given way to a slew of unintended consequences. For example, in some instances, legislators have been forced to take money from the education budget to fund prisons.
Gov. Ritter stressed, “TABOR is a problem because it includes that 6 percent cap and because of some of the ways it indexes revenue and indexes the amount of money you can spend. It is not necessarily realistic under circumstances that we have experienced.”
In addition, the governor saw crippling problems with the Gallagher Amendment because it keeps property taxes, which are used to fund education, very low. Moreover, the governor suggested rethinking Amendment 23, as it amounts to yet another restriction on spending.
The confluence of all these factors, according to Governor Ritter, “requires us to make budget decisions that don’t allow us to have a budget vision.”
Changing these hurdles to less restrictive spending is a tall order. However, it is one that Gov. Ritter obviously feels is necessary and is genuinely concerned about. As he stated, “We have to do something because if we don’t higher education will be, I think, always significantly behind; it is this place where we really are eroding our ability to compete with other states for research faculty, for teaching faculty and, I would argue, that will make an impact, not just in the quality of education for the students here in Colorado, it will make a really big impact on our ability to do the right 21st century economic development.”
Having been exposed to excerpts of his speech addressing education, I hope it seems as clear to you as it does to me that Gov. Ritter is not out to get us, as Dr. Penley’s public lashings might have us believe.
Luci Storelli-Castro is a senior political science and philosophy major. Her column runs every Thursday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.