With some 330 days of sunshine each year, Colorado maybe one of the sunniest states in the Union, but not when it comes to how government spends taxpayer dollars. Ironically the death of school spending transparency came during the very week that transparency advocates are celebrating national Sunshine Week.
The Marines couldn’t have saved school spending transparency from the education lobby’s financial stranglehold on the House Education Committee. More than 30 citizens and activists showed up to testify or show support for SB 57. Sources tell COST that some members of the House Education Committee received more that 50 emails and phone calls asking them to say yes to school spending transparency. Despite overwhelming support for transparency, taxpayers lost; lobbyists won.
The education lobby got the return it wanted on its $41000 investment. The eight legislators who voted no on SB 57are the same eight legislators that received large campaign contributions during the 2008 election cycle. Those legislators who voted no include Democrat Representatives Debbie Benefield, MIke Merrifield, Karen Middleton, Cherilyn Peniston, Christine Scanlon, Judy Solano, Sue Schafer and Nancy Todd.
Sources told COST that their arguments against the legislation came directly from the education lobby’s talking points. A couple of common refrains: “We support transparency, just not right now.” Or “We support transparency, just not like this.”
Bruce Caughey, deputy executive director of CASE, confirmed that when he said, ”We are opposed to the bill, but we are not opposed to financial transparency.”
As the Denver Daily News reported, Caughey went on to say that taxpayers have enough information, “There is already information made available to the public that provides clear information on district budgets.” Apparently taxpayers don’t feel the information is “clear,” because so many showed up to testify in favor of the bill.
Of course, no education lobbying would be complete without invoking an “it’s for the children argument.” Caughey add, “This requirement will be taking away money that could be spent in classrooms.”
One anti-SB 57 legislator made a Ritter-esque suggestion for an “interim study” to find out what people really want, “something meaningful.” Another Blue Ribbon Commission anyone? COST finds this suggestion a bit baffling because Rep. Amy Stephens and the dozens of citizens who testified were very clear that they want to see expenditures and revenues.
While COST realizes that the evening went long, Representative Solano’s scolding of citizens who took hours out of their day to testify was unnecessary. She told them that they should not be coming to the state about local issues. Solano failed to grasp that the only reason taxpayers spent hours at the Capitol, not getting paid to be there, is because local school districts aren’t providing the information.
Because of Rep Solano’s protection of local control, COST assumes that she will vote no on SB 180, which mandates collective bargaining for public safety employees regardless of the will of local voters. In other words, SB 180 would override the will of Fort Collins and Weld County voters who have defeated attempts to allow collective bargaining for law enforcement. COST looks forward to Rep Solano’s no vote on SB 180.
And Rep. Middleton asked the Andy Kerr question. Colorado Transparency Project Amy Oliver explained (again) the difference between public and private entities. Amy later said that since Kerr and Middleton have a difficult time understanding the difference, next time she is asked the question she will explain the difference between voluntary donations and compulsorary taxation.
Many testified in favor of transparency including Todd Shepherd, Independence Institute investigative reporter. Todd revealed his findings about Office Depot overcharging school districts and how it relates to Colorado. Looking at only a six-month window of expenditures, he found hundreds of thousands of dollars spent with the office supplies retailer. Todd argued that transparency deputizes Coloradans to serve as mini auditors possibly saving school districts thousands of dollars.
While legislators and lobbyists killed the bill, they cannot kill the movement. COST agrees with Amy as she was quoted in the Denver Daily News. “The transparency train has left the station,” she said. “They (districts) can either be on board and be influential or have a hundred activists putting up their own site using only the information that they find relevant.”
Despite this defeat, we will continue to work with all stakeholders as we move forward with school spending transparency. We intend to look at expenditures, and let school districts explain the revenue and context.
COST does want to thank those who testified on behalf of transparency (including the tireless Natalie Menten) and those legislators who showed respect for taxpayers and voted yes on SB 57 — Republican Representatives Ken Summers, Carole Murray, Randy Baumgardner, Tom Massey and Kevin Priola.
Remember No taxation without information!