BANGOR, Maine — Proponents and opponents of Question 4, the ballot question known as TABOR II, have ramped up the use of education to make their argument about whether to support or reject the measure.
Representatives of the Vote No on TABOR campaign held a rally Thursday at the University of Maine to warn against the effects of a Taxpayer Bill of Rights on education.
They made reference to Colorado, which passed a TABOR initiative in 1992, as a state that has reduced education spending to the point where it spends less per pupil than 48 other states. Additionally, Colorado teachers are paid less than counterparts in nearly every other state, according to claims by the Citizens Unified for Maine’s Future, a group opposing TABOR.
Finally, the group cautioned that TABOR has created an economic environment such that Colorado’s public university system is considering privatization, an idea reported recently in a Denver newspaper.
“I think it’s a commonly accepted fact that investing in public education is vital to the state and to economic development,” Mark Gray, executive director of the Maine Education Association, said after the rally. “TABOR would create yet another roadblock to continued investment in our public school systems. It puts a rigid formula in place on state expenditures overall, and education would have to compete for resources as we move forward.”
The Maine Heritage Policy Center, one of the leading groups in favor of Question 4, invited William Moloney, the former education commissioner in Colorado, to dispute claims that his state’s education system has been devastated by TABOR.
Moloney, who spoke in Bangor and Augusta on Thursday, said TABOR opponents have said scurrilous things about Colorado, but he’s proud of the school reform he championed in his state.
“Education is something that benefits more from a strong economy than anything else,” he said, adding that TABOR was a big part of creating that strong economy. As for the discussion of privatizing the state’s public university system, Moloney said that’s not a serious proposition, merely “a good sound bite.”
Stephen Bowen, education director for MHPC, also disputed much of the data cited by Question 4 opponents and said Colorado has actually increased per-pupil spending every year since TABOR passed.
Question 4 asks, “Do you want to change the existing formulas that limit state and local government spending and require voter approval by referendum for spending over those limits and for increases in state taxes?”
The debate over Question 4 represents a fundamental philosophical difference in the role of taxes and government spending and it has generated significant discussion. Only recently has the debate turned to education, but both sides continue to use Colorado as an example.
John Diamond, speaking on behalf of the University of Maine System board of trustees, said the board had serious concerns about public colleges and universities in Maine.
“Based on what has happened in Colorado, the board believes that passage of this legislation could result in higher tuition rates for thousands of Maine students,” he said. “It could also lead to cuts in programs that help make Maine students competitive in the job market.”
Moloney disagreed with that assessment of Colorado’s current issues, but he pointed out that, regardless of spending, Colorado’s students meet or exceed student outcomes in standards measured by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Education Progress.