Rell's Reasons: Why A Tax Hike, And Why Now Governor
February 25, 2007
Oped By M. Jodi Rell
I have been governor for 21/2 years and in state government for more than 20 - and I have never believed more strongly in a policy initiative. So strongly that I am willing to use the bully pulpit and expend my political capital in the legislature to help build the best education system in the country.
My proposal to spend $1 billion more a year on schools has met with the approval of economists, educators, mayors, voters, editorial writers and many legislators. It also met with questions from several armchair quarterbacks whose theme is "Why did you do it and why now?"
There are political pundits and columnists who criticize nearly everything as too much or not enough - many of whom, interestingly, served in public office themselves. Why didn't they do anything about this issue when they had the chance?
Fourteen months ago, I convened a bipartisan Commission on Education Financing, charged with identifying better, fairer ways of distributing state funds for local education. The commission issued its final recommendations in December - after the election and before my budget address.
I did not convene the commission to feed campaign rhetoric or make promises. I did it to get answers and solutions - and that's what I got from the commission. My education proposal was largely based on the findings of school financing and accountability experts who spent a year studying the issues and developing their recommendations. Their study was the most recent of many to make recommendations - and the time is right to implement them.
Why did I do it now? Because I am the governor and it is my job to do what is best for the state and its future. Connecticut is a great state by any measure - but we are losing ground on the critical battleground of education.
In 1990, Connecticut was tied with Massachusetts for the highest college attainment. Over the past 15 years, five states have caught up and surpassed Connecticut - which ranked sixth in 2004.
Over time, a drop in the average educational level of our workforce will lower personal per-capita income and lower the state's tax base. This is a downward spiral we can ill afford.
In the global economy, Connecticut has many competitors - other states and countries who are making investments in the future. Connecticut's educational system must keep up with the rapid pace of our changing world or our economy will decline.
We do not have gold or oil or natural resources, but we have great human resources. The future of Connecticut continues to be knowledge. We must invest in it.
We cannot continue looking at Connecticut's future in the two-year chunks of our budget process. Our investments must be in this generation and in generations to come.
Every year we talk about reducing crime, reducing violence in our cities, reducing the dropout rate, properly investing in education. The more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same - and the only long-term solution is education.
College grads are more likely to earn more, be employed, be healthy, avoid criminal behavior and have children who perform better in school. Analyze any social issue - the answer is better education.
Two decades ago, Connecticut's economy was dominated by defense manufacturing, banking and insurance. Two decades from now, we can expect it to be dominated by stem cell research, nanotechnology, medical research and new directions we can only imagine today.
We must invest in our children from the ground up. If a state builds a great place to learn, a great economy is likely to follow.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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