BATAVIA – Solving the school funding problem is simple. The state needs to raise taxes. Simple. Problem solved.
That was the message delivered by Ralph Martire, an expert on school funding, at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Central Kane County on Oct. 20 at the Batavia Public Library.
“The state has a revenue problem, not a funding problem,” Martire said. “It’s not an ideological problem, it’s math.”
Martire is executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a bipartisan think tank headquartered in downtown Chicago.
He also serves on a school board for the community of River Forest, giving him experience beyond the Loop’s lofty spires.
Martire rattles off figures in the billions of dollars, but his math is pretty simple. He contends that the state doesn’t spend enough on education, particularly where the evidence shows that it is needed most.
He likes to repeat the refrain of “waste, fraud and abuse” as a part of government that he says is both inevitable and overrated.
“Whenever people get together to run an enterprise where there is a lot of money, there is going to be waste, fraud and abuse,” Martire said.
Examining the state’s budget, Martire shows how a big chunk automatically goes to service debt, pensions and other statutory payments.
Once that’s taken care of, there really isn’t that much discretionary spending left for the legislature, he said.
For years, the state has papered over its failure to produce enough revenue by borrowing from pension funds, Martire said.
Property taxes are at their limit and leave less affluent school districts without the funding they need to provide students with an adequate education, he said.
“It has to be redistributive,” Martire said of the solution, which is an increase in state revenues.