Bert Zipperer: Remember voters, as schools go, so goes our city

From the Capitol Times

By Bert Zipperer
March 14, 2007

A referendum question will again be on next month’s ballot seeking our approval to continue dismantling public education, both in Madison and throughout the state. You will be able to vote to overcrowd classrooms, close schools, provide fewer support staff and undermine all sorts of quality educational programs in our district.

While this question isn’t explicitly on the ballot, by voting for candidates who have failed to put forth efforts to counteract the established state spending caps for school districts (as well as cities), we are certainly voting to destroy public education for all.

Local candidates will typically offer some comment such as “I can’t do anything about that, as we can’t determine taxation powers or policies at our level of government.” These people are the strongest allies of the forces that would end public education as we have known it. They must be voted out of office or they will harm future generations.

What must be done? First of all, every level of government in this state deserves to be a real democracy. Each level of government knows the needs of its people and the elected leaders must be empowered to raise whatever level of funding they deem appropriate. At this time both schools and cities are handcuffed by spending caps. They determine their spending priorities within the limits imposed by the state government.

If local control means anything, state leaders must lift the caps now. Let us decide our own budgets, and if local leaders are wrong, we will throw them out ourselves.

If spending caps are not eliminated, then I believe each and every candidate for any state office must have spending caps imposed on campaign spending. If you can’t run a campaign within spending limits, why do they think we can educate children on the cheap?

Every elected leader in this city and across the state must take action to bring a system of fair taxation to all levels of government. This would be based on an individual’s and a family’s ability to pay. Those of us with more resources would pay a higher proportion of our wealth in taxes, as we have more disposable income. Of course, this is based on the progressive income tax, first enacted here in Wisconsin a century ago.

City leaders and the Madison Metropolitan School District can take immediate steps by authorizing studies of the effects of various tax systems, including local and county income taxes, indexing property taxes on primary residences to household income, and other ideas.

How do we ensure that we provide high-quality services to all without crushing lower-income families, working class families and seniors on fixed incomes? We must demand action from local leaders to move this statewide issue forward.

Immediately the city’s elected leaders must join with the School Board and put forth two referendum questions:

1.Exempt local schools from spending caps, either permanently or for the next several years.

2.Demand state action to create fair taxation options, based on the ability to pay, to fund all local levels of government.

We must replace spending caps with fair taxation at every level of government. We must come to see that the monies we spend are not “costs” to be cut, but rather “investments” that will pay a dividend over the coming decades. By cutting investments, we are eliminating any future returns on this money.

We must demand that local officials lead, rather than be passive puppets, in this time of crisis. Neighborhood residents in various parts of Madison are now pitted against each other to keep schools open and to save specific school programs. The decisions to cut the school budget are not based on fewer students, less need or any good educational reasoning. The district simply creates a budget within the state-imposed spending caps.

The “tax cut” chorus has been based on lies – while taxes are high for some, they are high because of the elimination of taxes on the wealthy and on big businesses.

While we are at it, why not demand a constitutional amendment to fully fund all campaigns with public money? If all elected leaders were responsive to the people, and not to the biggest money donors, wouldn’t this democracy be dramatically reinvigorated immediately? Currently money alone is fully represented – imagine if people had that kind of representation!

The city and the schools are tied together in a fabric of mutual destiny. As the schools go, so goes the city, and vice versa. It is time for these levels of government to stand up together and take action.

We, as voters and members of this community, must not support any candidate for any office who does NOT take action to restore democracy and ensure a fair taxation system to invest in our community. To do anything else is to truly vote to continue destroying public education as well as our city’s future.

Posted by Janet Morrow

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Filed under AMPS, Budget, Elections, Local News, School Finance

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