Thursday, October 1, 2015

And the crickets chirped in Pierre

The Blue Ribbon Panel meet in Pierre today...and it felt like they accomplished next to nothing.  It was painful to listen to at times.  Cory had wondered at Dakota Free Press:
 But maybe as the Blue Ribboneers gaze out the windows at Pierre’s leisure class enjoying their expensive ball-chasing (Thursday’s weather: 70°F, partly sunny, windy), they’ll think about the wealth this state has available to raise teacher salaries. They’ll think about the teachers who are in their classrooms (except for the two K-12 teachers who serve with the 24 non-teachers on this panel deciding the fate of our state K-12 funding policy) earning the lowest salaries in the nation for the thirtieth year in a row. And maybe, just maybe, the Blue Ribboneers will put two and two together and realize they need to redistribute some wealth to support the teachers who make it possible for everyone in this state to acquire wealth.
The answer was a clear NOPE!  A lot was discussed about simplifying formulas and shifting capital outlay funds from one place to another, but the true thorny issues of increasing funds to pay for increases was basically ignored.

After the small groups met, you seemed to have a lot of discussion about new revenue from things like wind farms and banks being equalized, Allowing for some capital outlay funds to be used for general funds and getting rid of the current flexibility structure we have until 2018 and putting a cap on reserves like Nebraska, but no one really wanted to talk about how we raise revenue.  The reason?  They simply were not prepared!  Rep. Sly is quoated in the Oct 2 Argus Leader as reminding everyone that they have no idea what to do about funding and teacher salaries...
“We don’t have a good grasp on the whole model that was presented to us,” Sly said. “We don’t even know what the number would be at this point.”  
While quotation is on changing the funding formula and not revenue needed to increase salaries, it belies a big point about this meeting that was supposed to be the last (they do have a back up planned for the end of October): they talk about shifting things around and making funding look good to the voter.  As Paula Hawks asked toward the end: "Where is the money?"

They did have Andy Gerlach speak for a little bit of time about sales tax, but no other type of revenue was dared discussed.  At one point Billie Sutton tentatively asked why income tax was not being talked about, and either Sly or Soholt (I couldn't tell which) jokingly threatened to put it down that Sutton brought it up, and he backed away and basically apologized for the idea.  Then it was stated that only sales tax was brought up at the meeting.  I remember one group specifically mentioning that we need to look at a income tax or corporate tax.  I also remember the panel itself had a copy of polling data that says the tax payers would support come forms of income taxes and corporate taxes, but what the hell do the voters know....

They now have one last chance: October 29.  I think it is time to try and reach out to the panel and share some of our ideas, so they can come prepared and not be stuck spinning their wheels.