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February 29, 2024

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Spring Housing Guide

New tax law will hurt education

November’s election may be months away, but University officials are already speaking out against a ballot issue that might affect college tuition.

The legislation, the Tax Expenditure Limitation, or TEL – known as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights or TABOR in other states – is a group of constitutional changes that would limit revenue growth for state and local governments.

Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, one of the Republicans who will face off in the governor’s primary May 2, proposed the bill with the intention of lowering taxes.

But Larry Weiss, associate vice president of University relations and governmental affairs at the University, said while the plan sounds appealing, it could cause problems for students and educators.

For example, he said the University might not have the ability to save up for new computers or other technologies because excess funds would be “swept away” at the end of each year if the TEL passes.

In December 2004, funding cuts resulted in the loss of the director and secretary of the University’s Women’s Center. Weiss said TEL could cause even more cuts.

“If this would pass, the results could be devastating for higher education as a whole,” he said. “It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever seen happen.”

Weiss said higher education is often the first to suffer when cuts are made, so he expects TEL to result in even more cuts.

“Ohio’s already an under-educated state; this could make it even worse,” he said, adding that when Colorado passed the bill, problems eventually arose.

Carlo LoParo, spokesman for Ken Blackwell, said officials and analysts need to distinguish between Ohio’s TEL and TABOR in Colorado.

“They don’t have the facts,” LoParo said. “What they’re receiving are scare tactics. Ken Blackwell believes the state needs to reign in taxing,” he said. “[TEL] puts strict guardrails on government growth, this encourages more people to stay in Ohio – it’s pretty simple.”

According to the Bell Policy Center, a liberal non-profit organization in Colorado, average annual state funding for Colorado students dropped 35 percent between 2002 and 2005.

Charles de Bartolomé, an associate professor of economics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said TEL gives instructors duties they shouldn’t have to worry about. Instead of working on research and creative projects, instructors have their hands tied simply working with the resources available to them, he said.

“TABOR [TEL] has made spending harder,” said Bartolomé, whose research interests include the design of tax structures in the state and local sector.

He said salaries, university support and possibly even building maintenance have been affected by his state’s bill.

Lynette Anderson, public information officer for Academy School District 20 in Colorado Springs, Colo., said TABOR/TEL also had a negative impact on elementary and high schools.

After officials in her district realized they couldn’t cope with the bill’s cuts, they appealed to be freed of the amendment’s growth limits.

“Voters began realizing what the limitations meant,” Anderson said. “We were getting the kids but couldn’t afford the teachers.”

With schools consistently growing, losing money isn’t an option.

As a result of opposition like this, the Colorado amendment was suspended in November 2005 for five years.

But Ed Frank, director of communications at Americans for Prosperity, a grassroots group in favor of lower taxes and less government spending, believes Ohio’s TEL won’t be so detrimental.

“I think TABOR [TEL] would allow the state government to grow at the same rate as the population,” he said, adding not all education issues should be attributed to TEL.

“State governments have to make priorities on how they’re spending,” Frank said. “In Colorado, they decided to spend more on K-12 education then they had to skimp on other areas.”

Joy Padgett, R-Coshocton, an Ohio senator who is Jim Petro’s running mate in Tuesday’s primary, sees the bill very differently.

“It ends up telling local governments what they need to do,” she said, adding it puts a “stranglehold” on local governments.

According to the bill, state spending will be limited to 3.5% or the rate of inflation, plus the increase in population. Tax payers will have to approve any increases in spending, which Padgett believes will further slow state and local legislation.

Padgett said she’s also concerned the bill could control elected officials and cripple state universities.

Despite the state’s initiatives to increase the number of Ohio students who pursue higher education, she said TEL would prevent universities from adjusting to increased enrollment.

“They wouldn’t be able to fund more students,” Padgett said. “The problem is that there’s no flexibility.”

This lack of flexibility, she said, robs local governments and universities of the incentive to save money.

“It will absolutely promote a ‘spend-it-or-lose-it mentality’,” Padgett said.

She’s also concerned if TEL passes, hundreds of lawsuits will follow in order to interpret the bill’s provisions.

Blackwell’s spokesman called these charges misinformation, but would not elaborate further.

Meanwhile, BGSU officials are mobilizing against TABOR.

On May 5, the University’s Board of Trustees will vote on a resolution to formally oppose TEL. The Inter-University Council of Ohio, which represents the state’s 13 public universities and two medical colleges, has already officially expressed its opposition to the bill. Soon after, Cleveland State University also did so.

Bernard Little, next year’s president of BGSU’s Undergraduate Student Government, said USG is already planning to educate students about the issue.

“This upcoming academic year, you’re gonna see a lot about it,” he said.

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