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Our View

Child-care taxes not well defined

There should be little debate about the importance of affordable, quality child care to this community. Such care is vital to our economic and societal health.

But being a proponent of affordable, quality child care does not necessarily translate into support for Routt County Referendum 1A and Steamboat Springs Referendum 2B. The former is a 1-mill property tax increase that will raise an estimated $600,000 per year for early childhood education; the latter is a half-cent sales tax that would raise about $1.6 million for child care.

In our opinion, both should be defeated, not because our community’s child-care centers could not benefit from such funding, but because the proposals are woefully unspecific when it comes to defining what residents will receive in return for their tax dollars.

First Impressions of Routt County argues the current child-care rate charged in Steamboat Springs about $32 per day per child does not cover current expenses and is not nearly enough to cover the kind of high-quality care tax proponents say the community needs. Such care would cost about $49 per day. Recognizing that only the smallest fraction of parents in the county can afford to pay almost $13,000 per year for care for one child, advocates developed the tax proposals as a means to provide a sliding scale of tuition assistance to families in the county so that everyone can afford the higher rate.

But how much assistance can residents, who would be paying more in property and sales taxes, expect to receive? That’s not defined in the proposals, though proponents say child-care costs will be capped somewhere between 7 percent and 13 percent of income for residents who qualify. That’s a pretty wide range for a family earning $75,000, the difference between 7 percent and 13 percent is $375 per month.

Who would qualify for assistance? Again, the ballot language does not define that, though proponents say it would likely be those who earn between $50,000 and $100,000, because those earning less than $50,000 already receive state and federal assistance.

And what is “quality early childhood education” and how do we measure it? Is it more programs, better curriculum or simply better pay for child-care workers? What’s the return on our tax investment?

There are other questions to consider:

n What specific criteria would be used to decide which child-care centers are eligible for the tuition-assistance program?

n At the core of the tax plan is raising salaries for child-care workers so that local centers can hire certified teachers with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in early childhood education. Are there enough certified and degreed personnel available to fill those slots?

n What about families who subscribe to the belief that a parent should stay at home with children younger than age 5? Why should those families be asked to pay more in taxes to support something that offers them no benefits and in fact goes against their philosophy?

A wide-ranging variety of child care from licensed in-home providers to nonprofit centers with structured curriculums exists in Routt County. No one is asking those child-care providers to lose money. Centers should set rates necessary to ensure adequate funding. And parents should select the child-care option that best meets their financial and educational needs.

Public funding should not be ruled out as a means of improving early childhood education in this community. But any tax plan should define the specific costs and benefits. The child-care tax proposals on the Nov. 6 ballot fall well short of defining either.

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