Whoever is elected to the 19th district state senate seat will face having to possibly re-write the public education foundation formula, deal with lagging budgets and look at changing the tax structure. Democratic candidates Chuck Graham and Tim Harlan each have their own plans to close corporate tax loopholes and both oppose tax credits or vouchers for private schools.
With the Aug. 3 Democratic primary less than two weeks away, educational issues have become the focal point of the race.
Teacher’s unions and teacher’s themselves are taking sides. The Missouri State Teacher’s Association, the Missouri Federation of Teachers and School-Related Personnel and the Missouri School Boards’ Association have endorsed Graham, while the Missouri National Education Association has endorsed Harlan.
Graham, the current 24th District State Rep., believes his work on keeping the MU medical school in Columbia; preventing Southwest Missouri State University from being renamed Missouri State University; his support of constructing new facilities at MU, including a $35 million sports arena; and his legislation to balance the school foundation formula are the reasons for his endorsements.
“I have made good things happen,” Graham said in a debate July 14.
Former 23rd District State Rep. Harlan said, “You will not find anybody who is going to support public education more than I.”
Harlan said that if elected he will re-align funding for public education and work with both Democrats and Republicans to change the tax structure, which he said is outdated and not adequately funding schools.
A MNEA committee, that included two teachers from Columbia and one from Moberly, chose to endorse Harlan after an interview with both candidates.
“Tim had in-depth, thoughtful answers, and considering the problems we are going to have changing our tax structure and school, we feel he can add to that conversation greatly,” said Greg Jung, president of MNEA.
Jung said the committee agreed with both candidates in terms of their stances on issues, but it came down to which candidate had a greater depth of understanding.
While Harlan does not have specifics for a plan, he said he would like to see a change to make the system more equitable. A lawsuit has been filed against the state alleging the current system does not equally fund education.
“People who live in Clayton or Ladue, no matter what party they’re in, have a different view of school finance than people who live in Randolph or Boone County,” Harlan said.
Graham said he would also like to make the formula more equitable, saying his experience as chairman of the Education Appropriations Committee gives him the expertise required to do so. As a representative, Graham sponsored legislation to change the way the foundation formula is calculated. The bill, which went into effect in August 2002, calls for the same amount of money, but removes the spikes caused by property tax re-assessments, which are done every other year and are a component in the formula.
To fund higher education, Graham proposes removing the $500 loss limit on gaming and increasing the gaming tax. He tried unsuccessfully to pass two similar bills in 2003 and this year, but Republicans blocked the bill from passage.
Both candidates want to close corporate tax loopholes, which allow Missouri corporations to transfer revenue to parent companies in states that don’t have income taxes for franchise costs such as trademarks and logos. The transfer of revenue essentially allows corporations to avoid Missouri corporate income taxes. Opponents of closing the loophole say it will drive business out of Missouri. However, Scott Ciafullo, president of MFT & SRP, said closing the loophole will put more money into education.
The MFT & SRP also chose to endorse Graham because of his stance against tax credits and vouchers, which are forms of money given to parents to use toward the cost of tuition at private schools.
“Public money needs to go to public education,” Ciafullo said. “Mr. Graham will continue to fight against the tax credits and vouchers that go against public education.”
Harlan opposes vouchers as well, saying they are an inappropriate way to fund education.
Todd Fuller, a spokesperson for MSTA, said the association chose to endorse Graham because of his support of funding for the Career Ladder program and improvements to the teacher retirement system. The Career Ladder program encourages teachers to stay after school and tutor students by offering incentives. Graham supported a bill recently passed that separates funding for the program from the foundation formula. Previously when the formula was underfunded, so was the program.
Harlan leads in terms of contributions from educators or teacher’s unions. According to campaign finance reports, Harlan received 157 contributions this year from teachers or their unions for a total of $7,629. Graham raised slightly less, $6,325, although those came from 28 contributors. The Missouri Ethics Commission does not require contributions of $100 or less to be listed individually, although they must be included in the aggregate amount. Graham did not separately list $100 contributions, while Harlan did.
“We’re concentrating as much as we can on individual small donors,” Harlan said. “I think that says a lot about our campaign, that corporate donors and lobbyists are not contributing substantial amounts.”
Graham has received the support of five MU deans and the chancellor, Richard Wallace.
As a representative, Graham supported the construction at MU of Cornell Hall, the Life Sciences building and the Paige Sports Arena as well as the renovation of Townsend Hall.
He said he’ll fight for the construction of a Health Sciences Research Center, a Center for the Performing Arts and the renovation of the Engineering East building if elected.
Graham’s support of the Paige Sports Arena has caused controversy. Graham, who sponsored the bill to allocate $35 million for the arena’s construction, said the arena has created jobs and will boost the economy. Harlan contends the bill was an inappropriate use of funds.
The winner of the democratic primary will face Republican Mike Ditmore in November’s election.