Friday, November 09, 2007

Let's put this question to Sen. Clark 

Gary links to a Tarryl Clark press release that argues for a state fix to the property tax so that the state can provide funding for education. I'm going to very selectively quote this, so be sure to go read the whole release -- you are invited to quarrel with the interpretation I am about to give by arguing these are out of context. I think not.
�Property taxpayers are overburdened with requests to cover the gaps created by Gov. Tim Pawlenty,� said Clark. �Those gaps are the result of policies that shift more and more of the cost of government from wealthy people to the middle class.�
We've had the argument already (see, for example, here) whether we have enough progressivity in the income tax. Clark has made this point before. And she makes it again and again in this press release:
�Property taxpayers are at their limit. They support public education � but it�s increasingly difficult to pay for schools through a tax that isn�t based on the ability to pay. It�s time for Gov. Pawlenty to end the march to mediocrity and properly fund our schools through a fairer system of taxation.�
In three separate places then, in a 255-word press release, she brings up the fairness issue (the italicized pieces.) She then points to wording in the Minnesota Constitution that she says isn't being met.
�Nearly 100 school districts asking taxpayers to make up for state government�s neglect is proof that isn�t happening. In years past, school funding was there, and referenda questions dealt with construction of new buildings and enhancements. Now they�re asking for enough money just to hang on.�
Now, people who understand school finance (which is a Byzantine structure here in MN) would point out that the state bribes school districts to pass these operating levies. You have to impose a levy of a certain type -- often imposed by the school board without a referendum -- in order to get matching money from the state. (I rely on this booklet from the Center for Public Finance Research for much of this.) The share of school financing that comes from the state aid is quite large, in 2004-05 coming up to 82% of state plus local. Interestingly, the report notes that in the 1930s, the share of public education paid by the state was around 30%. As I recall, the Minnesota Constitution pre-dates 1930.

But be that as it may, let's suppose Senator Clark is right that schools need this money. Again, refer to the fact that three times she mentions fairness or tax cuts for the wealthy. Here's the question we should put to her: Suppose I could design for you a plan that gets more money to public education that was distribution-neutral. Would you support it? I'm encouraging any challenger for state House next year to put this question to an incumbent. Why? In another context, health care, Greg Mankiw points out the same thing. You'll see that I've simply replaced the words "health care" with the words "public education". You decide if it works.
Observing dissatisfaction with the U.S. healthcare public education system, they [pundits of the left and Democratic leaders] are using reform as a Trojan Horse to push for more redistribution of income. Almost all sweeping health public education reform proposals involve higher taxes on the rich to provide benefits for those farther down the economic ladder. The redistribution, rather than health reform, is sometimes the main objective.

To judge whether my conjecture is correct, ask your favorite pundit of the left the following: What health public education reform would you favor if the reform were required to be distribution-neutral? That is, you can change the rules of the health public education system but you cannot change the distribution of economic resources between rich and poor. My guess is that your favorite pundit would either object to the question or answer by retreating to more modest reforms. If so, this suggests that calls for sweeping reform are mainly motivated by the desire for increased redistribution.
Children are used, once again, as a stalking horse for a desire to take from Peter to give to Paul. It should be apparent that Clark fears that the support of Paul will not be enough to keep her party in power.

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