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Drop the Pitchforks 

Local school replacement levies shouldn't be lumped in with the wider anti-tax wars.

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Normally we haven’t run endorsements for school levies, as they are less an option and more a requirement to fully fund some of our most important public institutions. In a longstanding arrangement, public education requires local support for as much as a quarter of its funds. Keeping our public schools strong has never been controversial, but times have changed. Not only are more people engaged as we have moved to voting by mail, but there’s also the matter of those billboards.

Once anti-levy billboards went up with messages about taxes being bad for homeowners and seniors, this levy-replacement election was put into the larger national political context. Beyond the patent absurdity of the billboards (taxes do maintain homeowners’ property values in a variety of direct ways, and taxes do support seniors via all kinds of programs), they announced that this is now but one front in the war on government.

Nobody wants to pay taxes — that’s just human nature. But outside of fantasyland, grownups have to do what’s right, like investing in the future. Besides, federal taxes are as low as they’ve been for much of the last century, according to IRS statistics. Nonetheless, there are those who would like to see them lower still — like Somalia low.

The harangue against funding public services has been growing louder — first from grassroots groups like the Tea Party, then from big-money co-opting those movements. Any tax is a bad tax, in these circles, and in a man-bites-dog twist, teachers have been cast as villains. In places like Wisconsin and Idaho, some have blamed teachers for our ills while corporate raiders, Wall Street gamblers and job outsourcers are treated like apple pie. These are crazy times.

So before one of those billboards prompts you to grab a pitchfork and join the mob, think: Who’s behind this?

While state Public Disclosure Commission names only two donors to Citizens for Responsible Taxation (the group behind the billboards), other contributors remain unnamed. The address listed in the ads is all for show, too; it’s the South Regal Post Office. This kind of subterfuge is a cowardly, un- American way to make public decisions. An unwillingness to say things without showing your face speaks volumes.

But we learned plenty from their website, taxfacs.com, where you’ll see this anti-levy campaign is about a lot more than schools.

Under the “Who We Are” tab, you’ll find nuggets like this: “We are religious and moral people who are against the immorality that is being taught to our nation’s children in tax-subsidized government schools.”

Under the “Blog” tab, the site links to a video that starts as a diatribe against gay marriage, suggests our public education system is akin to The Communist Manifesto and concludes that if public education can be defunded, “In one generation, the Left will be no more and Christian civilization will be able to move forward.”

Anyone who is pondering a no vote on any of the 13 local school levies this week should consider the sad company they will be keeping.

Of course our schools aren’t perfect — there are big problems we have written about and will continue to explore. But instead of cutting 25 percent of the local schools’ budgets in some kind of selfish “send-a-message” fit, there are lots of ways to help — volunteer in a classroom, be active at school board meetings. Our local teachers work the front lines of social progress, turning today’s kids into tomorrow’s well-adjusted, productive adults — often against long odds. It’s vital, even heroic, work.

Local districts have already cut back — $50 million in Spokane Public Schools alone. Without the levy, kids will get hit again — even less attention from fewer teachers.

It’s also a jobs question, as education is one of our top employment sectors. And it would cripple one of the Spokane area’s most competitive features — the quality of our K-12 education.

Most people understand what’s at stake here, as proven by support for levy replacements going back decades.

So what are you going to do when these faceless, nameless anti-government marauders come for your school district? You defend the common good, especially in your own neighborhood. You let them know this blame-the-teachers nonsense will not fly here. You remind them America is at its best when we work together — building roads, winning wars, educating children. And you can do all that by voting yes for the no-new-taxes replacement levy.

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