Supporting schools carries big benefits

The campaign to support the bond measure and mill levy override proposed by School District 51 has focused primarily on how locally generated revenue will improve the classroom environment.

But an economic impact study suggests that the community as a whole will benefit from tax measures 3A and 3B. It stands to reason that the $125 million unleashed by the measures will ripple through the local economy in the form of jobs, wages and spending.

Making this point, however, is best done gingerly. We can see eyes rolling across the valley at the suggestion that higher taxes can spur the economy. If that were true, many would argue, why didn’t we tax ourselves out of the economic slump we’ve been in for the better part of a decade?

Because not all taxes are created equal. We’re talking about schools. Fixing them up puts people to work in the short term and improving educational outcomes delivers long-term benefits that factor into the community’s prosperity in a way that municipal services can’t.

Which would you choose? A community with great roads and crumbling schools? Or a community with great schools and crumbling roads? Which community has more potential — or seems to have its priorities in order?

The truth is that the community with great schools is more likely to have great roads, too, because of the critical role schools play in workforce development, business recruitment and retention, educational attainment and property values — all of which drive job creation and help expand the local tax base to deliver more revenues for government services and amenities.

Rhetorically asking if we can tax ourselves to prosperity misses the point. A better question is where would be if we had invested in our schools all along? We wouldn’t be looking up a hundreds of millions in deferred maintenance. Better schools might have blunted the worst effects of the recession by creating opportunities that never materialized.

By now we’re all familiar — or should be — with how Mesa County schools lag behind the state and nation in per-pupil funding. We should support the bond measure and mill levy, first and foremost, because our children deserve the best education possible. The economic impact is gravy. It’s good to know that the taxes will essentially be offset by the economic gains enumerated in Katie Langford’s front-page story Wednesday, but that’s a supporting argument, not a tent pole.

The proposed $118.5 million bond measure would pay for school repairs, a new Orchard Mesa Middle School, classroom technology and two new gyms. The $6.5 million mill levy override would pay for operational costs. Between them, they would generate $160 million in economic impact and support nearly 500 jobs, according to a study prepared by the Grand Junction Economic Partnership and the Economic Development Council of Colorado.

The study shows that the bond would pay for itself in economic development over the two-year construction period. More importantly, the tax measures make us more competitive in the economic development arena, delivering benefits to every corner of the community — even to those who don’t have kids in school.


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