Panel gets good news among flood of data

The legislator-citizen panel that Wednesday began its study of Colorado’s tangled and anemic financial system got a piece of good news from a University of Colorado economist – the recession may be over.

Richard Wobbekind of CU’s Leeds School of Business said, “It wouldn’t surprise me if July 2009 will be marked as the end of the recession,” at least according to the statistical way such things are measured.

But he also was careful to note that such economic good news doesn’t mean the Long-Term Fiscal Stability Commission won’t have a lot of work to do studying and suggesting reforms for the state’s fiscal system.

“I think what you’re doing is extremely vital,” he told the panel, which includes six legislators and 10 citizen members.

Wobbekind was one of nearly a dozen people who spoke to the committee. Most of them were legislative staff members who gave the panel kind of a Budget and Finance 101 crash course to the members. The material include background on constitutional provisions like the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and Amendment 23, a walkthrough of the general fund budget and details on the state’s current revenue crunch.

Members of the panel also spoke at the beginning of the meeting, introducing themselves and voicing their expectations for the study. The members represent a wide ideological range, and there’s been speculation about whether that will make it hard for the group to agree on the report it has to file by Nov. 6.

But, the overall tone of the comments seemed to indicate everyone is approaching the process with reasonably open minds. Chair Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, said he was heartened by the comments.

Member Tim Hume, a rancher and banker, said, “This is a practical problem, and ideology doesn’t have a place in a practical solution. … “The reason we’re here is that there have been too many ideological solutions in the past.”

The last witness of the day was Charles Brown, director of  the Center for Colorado’s Economic Future at the University of Denver.

He briefed the commission on a report the center issued Tuesday.

“There is simply not enough money to pay for the government we have created and the services many of us have come to expect,” the report said

“The largest departments of state government are growing more than twice as fast as tax dollars are coming in,” the researchers found.

The report spotlights three “tidal waves” threatening the state budget, K-12 spending, rising Medicaid costs and the need to replace one-time funding sources that the legislature used to balance (temporarily) the 2009-10 budget.

The study predicts that the 2010 legislature will have to find an additional $311 million to support K-12 in the 2010-11 budget year. That will be driven by a forecast 1 percent inflation increase, the 1 percent Amendment 23 “bonus” and the need to backfill an estimated 1.8 percent decline in assessed values statewide, which will reduce school district property tax revenues.

That amount could be reduced by cutting optional programs like preschool and tinkering with the school finance formula, “But these moves are not likely to raise enough money to lessen the problem to any meaningful extent,” the report said.

That $311 million will eat up 67 percent of forecast general fund revenue growth in 2010-11, according to the study.

The report calculated that the state general fund, the state’s main tax-supported spending account, grew at an average annual rate of 1.9 percent from 1998-99 to 2008-09. But during the same period, spending for K-12 education, prisons and health care (primarily Medicaid) grew an average of 5.4 percent a year.

Those three programs consumed 54 cents of every general fund dollar 10 years ago but now take 76. “That figure will jump to 91 cents in five years if the average growth rate continues. Eventually, at this rate, there would be no money for other programs,” the report said.

The study cites the familiar and conflicting constitutional provisions that govern state finances but also noted a structural problem – “evidence suggesting that Colorado’s revenue system often responds to economic conditions in an unbalanced way.” The report found that “in seven of the last nine years, individual income tax collections have been substantially ahead or behind changes in personal income in Colorado as well as changes in wage and salary income.”

The report concluded, “When a system responds in an exaggerated way to economic changes, whether by producing too much revenue relative to the economy or too little, problems can result.”

Noting the budget shifts and cuts and fee increases the 2009 legislature made, the report said, “The budgetary tsunami that washed over Colorado government last fall and winter was likely just the first wave. … Ultimately, it could mean more hikes in college tuition, deeper cuts in state government services or more fees to pay for them, or a ballot box request for higher taxes.”

As a first step, the study recommends a thorough, nonpartisan and expert review of public finance – including local government. The researchers noted that four such comprehensive studies have been done since 1930 – but the most recent one was done in 1959 – half a century ago.

The commission Thursday will hear testimony from representatives of various think tanks and interest groups.

Do your homework

Commission website, with copies of briefing papers and other materials.
Text of DU report

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.