Texas voters approving much of the $6.5 billion ($9 billion with interest) sought by local governments in May bond elections prompts two interesting observations. First, an entitlement epidemic breeding a self-indulgent culture and mindset that living beyond one’s means will override basic economic principles is thriving. Second, the reality ahead will be fascinating when economic principles kick in (as they always do) and future generations realize today’s “for the children” hype was an organized strategy of short-term gain and gratification to benefit one industry within one generation at the expense of generations to come.
Texas: An all-star debtor state
Never mind the silly talk of Texas as a bastion of conservatism – at least when it comes to fiscal responsibility. We’ve already got $322 billion in local debt. Texas prides itself on being competitive? You bet! We’re competing with California and New York as the nation’s biggest financial deadbeats.
Local government debt – that of school districts, cities, counties, community colleges, health/hospital districts, water districts and authorities along with other special purpose districts – is growing faster than the increase in population and inflation. School districts are the largest growth sector for this debt. Spending from 1999 through 2009 saw Texas public education funding rise five times faster than student enrollment growth. And as new “wants” are never-ending, many taxpayers – i.e., voters – remain comfortably mired in unquestioning lockstep with the education industry’s demands.
No reading, writing or doing the math wanted
The education industry has become an entitlement industry. The folks who once promoted reading as fundamental changed their tune when legislators considered offering voters the fundamental opportunity to read current debt levels (penalty and interest) on bond election ballots when school districts and other government entities seek new debt. Educators seemed to feel entitled to holding back that information.
And math. Credible math problems once involved calculating principle and interest. Not only was this a good exercise in understanding math principles, but it was also functional knowledge as most of us at one point or another make long-term purchases like a home or car in which interest significantly adds to the base purchase price.
Funny though, the education industry seems to feel entitled to disregard the interest when it comes to promoting school bonds. Students once learned an expenditure can’t be accurately evaluated unless interest is part of the equation. Yet in 2013, school districts, joined their other local government counterparts in fighting any entitlement of which voters might be deserving with regard to such transparency in bond elections.
And thankfully, teaching character doesn’t appear so great a priority any more. After all, an industry that feels to entitled to obscure the true financial picture of a taxpayer-funded entity is hardly qualified to instruct others on matters of honesty or right and wrong!
And as lip service is continually paid to the theory of critical thinking, those utilizing such a skill quickly fall out of favor. Independent thought is rarely appreciated as it, on the subject of school finance, too often prompts discussion of economic realities and costs/benefits of dollars spent. Educators’ and their groupies’ best cases are based on promises for the future, not honest looks at outcomes of the past.
The mechanics of getting bond elections passed are identifiable, trackable. Many elections are called at targeted times when turnout will be predictably small, but key voter participation can be optimized. With schools, early voting sessions rotated between school campuses and timed with school events (back-to-school or end-of-school) aids the casting of “friendly” votes.
Peer pressure extends into community presentations and other materials that discourage dissent from the prevailing, “popular” point of view promoted by business leaders and prominent social figures. Campaigns – often well-funded by prospective contractors – also pointedly remind that with school tax freezes, voters age 65 and older will be protected from additional taxes any proposed measure brings.
While demands for increased spending legitimately exist in some quarters, the education industry and its followers have created a culture that feeds on the appearance of endless prosperity and superficial success. Future generations will take a double-barrel hit with being short-changed in their academic preparedness as well as saddled with massive debt.
In Lady Madonna, Paul McCartney sings “Who finds the money? When you pay the rent? Did you think that money was Heaven sent?”
That mindset would seem to prevail today.