Thursday, October 28, 2010
Election 2010: Measures 73 & 76
My wife is passionate about environmental and education issues and she considered a 'yes' vote on Measure 76 a no-brainer. Who doesn't like funding for parks and beaches and wildlife? So I posed a question: "at this moment, if there was one thing you had to cut for a couple of years until the economy improves, which of the two things, education and parks, do you think can best weather a temporary cut?" My answer is clear: parks and wildlife. There is convincing evidence that temporary disruptions like shorter school years, larger class sizes, etc. create long-term consequences for kids. Thus if I have to make a difficult choice, I would protect schools above just about anything else.
I also don't like the idea of telling the criminal justice system how to do their jobs, having virtually no knowledge of the actual tradeoffs between spending more money on education, early childhood intervention and other things that will spur economic growth and thus provide non-criminal opportunities, versus spending more money on incarceration. Measure 73 not only ties up money that might be better spent elsewhere, but it also reduces the ability of the justice system to deal on a case-by-case basis with recidivists.
That said, there are arguments for both that essentially come from the same principle: there has been a failure of government (or the criminal justice system) to properly deal with to things that have substantial externalities. Parks, beaches and wildlife have substantial positive externalities and as such are chronically underfunded. Sex offenders and drunk drivers cause substantial negative externalities to society and as such there we have a system that allows too much of them. I don't necessarily disagree with either statement. But public education may have the biggest external benefit of all and to address the aforementioned two at the expense of education is the real trade-off.
In the end, things that look good in isolation start to become less clear when the trade-offs are explicit - which is a big point of economics in general. Will schools benefit if these two do not pass? I don't know, but given that K-12 is THE massive chunk of the state's general fund and a major part of the lottery fund account, it is hard to see how they won't.