I have seen this Roanoke Times editorial (“We call out the 14 senators who voted against modernizing schools”) shared repeatedly today by many of my friends, and I’d like to comment.
The editorial decries the State Senators who voted against “a proposal by state Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, to hold a referendum on whether to issue $3 billion in state bonds,” claiming that “Stanley’s proposal was too big and too bold for either party.”
This is simply laughable.
When you vote on a school bond referendum, it is always a local referendum, put on the ballot by your county or city. And the locality is literally asking your permission, as a resident, to take out the bonds on behalf of the schools, because you have a say in your local budget and the money to pay off the bonds is usually recouped with some form of local taxes or other budget cuts.
This is not a referendum that, if passed, would immediately allow the state to issue bonds and start fixing our schools. No! This is, quoting from the bill itself, a referendum that would be added to the 2019 ballot, whose results “would be advisory only and are intended only to demonstrate the preference of the citizens of the Commonwealth on developing such a commission.”
This referendum simply asks the voters whether they think that the General Assembly should issue bonds to BORROW money to fund our schools. It’s not binding – the General Assembly is under no obligation to listen to the results. It’s simply like turning our ballot into a BuzzFeed quiz!
Logistically, it is much cheaper for the state to conduct polling if they want to know how voters feel about this. And what’s more, you can count on 95% of voters not understanding the referendum — not understanding that it is not, in fact, binding.
But far more important, this is a ridiculous attempt to change the narrative about school funding. The truth of the matter is that the state does not need to issue bonds to BORROW money to fund our schools. The state needs to simply prioritize school funding in the state budget. There is plenty of state revenue every year to fund our schools over and over, but Republicans repeatedly vote against that. They vote to give tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy, instead of spending on public education. This is just a ruse to shift the blame.
The bill’s patron, Bill Stanley (R), repeatedly and fervently argued on the Senate floor against Medicaid expansion last year–something that was expected to put over $350 million extra into the budget. Stanley complained on the floor about the people of his district being sick and tired of being dependent on the government. Just this week, he and other Republicans have spoken repeatedly to use the opportunity of the federal tax changes to reshape Virginia’s tax policy to give wealthy Virginians an ADDITIONAL state tax cut to match the federal one they’ve already gotten, rather than to use the money to fund our schools and pay for teacher pay raises, as the Democrats propose.
This was a bill to try to shift the blame on crumbling schools and low teacher pay away from the Republicans’ budget priorities. This isn’t a matter of needing to borrow money to fix this problem–it’s a matter of needing to prioritize our public education system and workers.