For Tucson voters, seeing another tax increase on the November ballot probably doesn’t come as a shock. Yet the latest big government spending plan is especially bizarre: a ½ cent sales tax increase to fund a city-wide preschool program.
The audacity and complexity of Proposition 204 is generating opposition not just from conservatives, but liberal groups as well. The nature of the resistance is centered around the plan’s lack of accountability, transparency, and threat to other education funding priorities.
The most obvious problem with Prop 204 is that Tucson simply is not qualified to administer or manage a preschool program. Since statehood, public education has been overseen and funded through school districts and the state, not municipalities. Tucson will waste a great deal of taxpayer money developing, implementing and overseeing a new government program in a field they know nothing about and is already handled by other public entities.
The vague, ambiguous language contained in the initiative has only added to the confusion and has raised more questions than answers. According to Prop 204, a 7-person commission appointed by the City Council would be the decision makers on how the program would work. The commission would then hire and oversee a non-profit corporation to administer the program.
Critical details such as which citizens would qualify for the program, rates of reimbursement, oversight of which pre-k providers would be eligible, a sliding economic scale, etc would all be made by this unaccountable commission. Additionally, a couple of the commissioners would be early childhood education providers, raising serious questions of conflict of interest. The entire structure is long on bureaucracy and short on transparency and accountability: the City Council would oversee a commission, that would oversee a non-profit, that would oversee the pre-k program.
Proponents of Prop 204 have cited programs in Denver and San Antonio as examples of success. However, in both examples the preschool programs enacted were much smaller and included only a 1/8 cent tax increase. Tucson’s proposal is four times larger and proponents have not provided an explanation of why their program would require such a large contribution from taxpayers. Perhaps the answer lies in the complicated governance of the program, eating up efficiency and potential impact.
Even if Prop 204 wasn’t so poorly crafted, it is doubtful that Tucson can afford another large tax increase. It was only a few months ago that voters approved a ½ cent sales tax increase dedicated to road repairs and public safety equipment and facilities. If the latest increase is accepted, residents will shoulder a 50 percent increase to their sales tax within just a year!
The tax hike looks even worse when considering Tucson’s poor economic and job performance over the last decade. It was just announced that Tucson was ranked as the most distressed city in the nation, with 58.6 percent of its population living in economically distressed zip codes. Considering their dire economic situation, passing higher taxes will only make the city more unaffordable to its residents and less attractive to potential job-creators. Hopefully voters will realize the foolishness of Tucson getting into the preschool business and will reject this poorly vetted initiative.