Tuesday, October 22, 2002

D'oh!

I hate having to disagree with a fellow Hokie, but I don't think raising taxes is the answer to the Virginia budget shortfall (in case you missed it, VT is cutting 11% of its academic budget immediately, and 15% next year, though I don't know if this is cumulative or not). This is blamed on the (nearly-completed, but stalled) phase-out of the hated car tax.
Obviously, Virginia is likely to have fewer revenues if it lowers taxes (though I suppose gains in other tax areas might off-set this). The problem isn't that we don't have enough money, but that we're spending it inefficiently and on stupid stuff. Basically, Virginia Tech is divided into several entities, such as academics, buildings/physical plant, dining services, residential services, athletics, an others. Money from one of these entitites may not be used in others. Thus, despite a budget shortfall for academics, athletics is spending many millions of dollars on upgrading Lane Stadium (the Hokie Stone facade for the alumni side alone costs a million dollars). The Marching Virginians get most of our money from the athletic department. We get free travel plus compensation to an average of a game a year (we didn't go anywhere this year, but went to Pitt and UVA last year), the same to a bowl game, all the Dasani water we can drink at games, food before games, and many other perks. My Freshman year, we had clear plastic ponchos for bad weather that cost $5 apiece. We now have maroon and orange full-length rain-jackets with the MV logo that, despite costing $70 each, have been used once in two years and aren't actually waterproof. The excuse for why this money can't be put where it needs to be is that Virginia law forbids it. The answer to this is to change the law. There's nothing in our Declaration of Rights (our equivalent to a state constitution) saying that monies for universities must be kept in separate cubbyholes. I know the athletic department, led by the football team, pays its own way. However, without Virginia Tech, they wouldn't exist. Simply leaving off the Hokie Stone from the stadium would fund twenty $50,000/year teaching positions. While I like my MV perks and having a good stellar football team as much as anyone else, that's not where the university and the Commonwealth's priority should lie.
As for raising taxes, this is a bad option. In my book, government should only have the power to raise taxes if it can show that it is both using all its available money wisely and needs more revenue in order to fund a something necessary. However, we're not in my book, so we'll go with how things are. The argument that we should raise taxes instead of tuition is saying that the rest of Virginia should help pay for your education because you don't want to. You're saying that what they want to do with their money is less important than what you want to do with it. They don't really benefit from you taking Intro to Wimmins' Studies as a free elective.
You do not have an absolute right to go to college immediately after graduating from high school (I think a good argument could be made that you shouldn't go straight to college, either). If you or someone willing to pay for you has enough to pay your expenses, then bully for you. If not, then you have to start making decisions. Can you afford community college for the first two years (your intro classes) and then transfer to a university? Do you need to take a year off to earn money to pay tuition? Can you get a student loan? Is it possible for you to graduate in three years and thus save 25% of the cost? You may have to enlist in the Army for four years and use your pay and the GI Bill to afford college. There is no inalienable right to have your Bachelor's degree by the time you're 22. You may even have to work hard for years and years like Rachel Lucas to scrape together enough money.
What this budget crunch means is that sacrifices are going to have to be made. This may mean taking a core requirement instead of Floral Design each semester in order to graduate early. It may mean delaying college by a period of time. It may mean taking on a loan or a part-time job. However, raising taxes is not the answer.
The answer is to spend what we've got better than we have been.

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