I attended the QCTimes debate on the Davenport Promise last night, and came away fairly disappointed. I was disappointed in the format, which Mark Ridolfi admitted was more like an editorial board interview. I understand that they don't want it to turn into a screaming anti-Promise mob, but I would have liked to see more of the written-down-and-submitted questions read by the moderator. The other thing I was disappointed in was the quality of both sides' representatives. Ken Croken is a little too snarky, and Mark Nelson said some completely bizarre things. Unfortunately for the Pro-promise side, Croken didn't really capitalize on those. Another odd thing was how much Mark Nelson referred to the UpJohn study as a source despite frequently saying that it was junk. If you say something is worthless, don't constantly quote pieces of it that happen to support your side.
The main problem with the anti-Promise folks is that they're being led by a band of Libertarians. I have nothing against that party, but of course Libertarians would oppose an expansion of government! A lot of them, even possibly their hero Ron Paul, would like to see public schools go away altogether, so having them argue the against side put a spin on things that I don't think fits the population. The fact is Davenport does not elect a lot of Libertarians, so I would suspect that that isn't what the public wants right now. If we wanted to be Texas, and have lower taxes and fewer services, we'd vote in that direction. It doesn't seem that we do. I know I don't. At one point Mark Nelson said that if this was passed, the people would like it too much to ever vote to get rid of it. What??
Many times during the debate, Mark Nelson showed that he really could care less what happens to Davenport public schools. At one point he pointed out how nice our private and parochial schools are. That's great (actually I don't think they are) if you've got parents willing to send you to those, but many students do not. I guess in the market-based system that they're just out of luck.The absolute worst thing that Nelson said all night was that taking money from the "city pocket" to help the "school district pocket" doesn't make sense. He flat out said they never relate to each other. I'm sorry Mark, but they absolutely relate when the tax bill comes and they're both on there. Let's say the city passes this, and as he so often repeated, it never "breaks even" for the city. If the Promise brings in enough students that the school district stops raising their share of the property tax, that would more than even out the money that the city loses. The school district gets a much bigger share of our property taxes than the city, and will have to keep raising them if enrollment continues declining. Even if you send your kids to Assumption you have to pay for Davenport public schools.
There ARE reasons to oppose the Promise. I have serious concerns about the capital projects that will be delayed, even if it only affects Centennial Park and Prairie Heights Park. I don't like the idea that we're trading something that I believe in, city parks, for something that is a risk, the Promise. I'd honestly rather see an additional 0.3% sales tax used for the Promise than to have it taken away from the capital budget. Of course, considering how much resistance this has hit, I can only imagine the reaction to a new tax. The other thing that I could use against the Promise is their completely screwed up study that they had done. It ended up hurting the Promise's case more than helping it. Whether it was skewed towards the city's desires, or just badly done, the idea that the city is going to fail without the Promise is wrong. However, the idea that the Promise is going to ruin the city is also wrong. I would have preferred to see a non-Libertarian argue against the Promise based on the actual issues, rather than their ideological beliefs that the government shouldn't do anything. At the end of the night, I felt like, "If this is the best you guys can do to argue against it, this thing might pass after all."
Coming later: What happened when Opt4Better was asked what "better" is. Also, Bill Lynn the "expert economist", and the No folks conspiracy theories.