From the political notebook: • Conservatives are sharply criticizing the recent state Supreme Court decision striking down two education voucher programs, for disabled students and foster kids.
In so doing, they are guilty of precisely the same result- oriented reaction they routinely criticize liberals for.
I’m going to pick on state Sen. Thayer Verschoor. That’s a bit unfair, because he was just a bit player in this drama. But his comment best illustrates my point.
In response to the court’s decision, Verschoor said: “It is a sad day in Arizona that parents are sent the message that they don’t know what is best for their children.”
That wasn’t the message of the court’s decision at all. It had nothing to do about whether vouchers were good or bad public policy. There’s not a word in the decision about the merits of vouchers.
Instead, the unanimous decision found that vouchers violated the plain language of the state constitution. And in this, the justices were quite right.
The state constitution flatly states that “no tax shall be laid or appropriation of public money made in aid of any . . . private or sectarian school.”
Vouchers consist of an appropriation of public money so kids can attend private schools, precisely what the constitutional provision prohibits. The decision written by Justice Michael Ryan is appropriately spare. The provision speaks for itself.
Conservatives were trying to get the justices to look beyond the plain language and intent of the constitutional provision and apply a judge-made rule, the “true beneficiary test.”
The private schools aren’t the real beneficiaries of the vouchers, went the argument, the kids are.
Of course, vouchers benefit both the kids and schools. And conservatives shouldn’t be in the business of asking courts to use judge-made rules and tests to avoid the plain meaning of the actual text.
The state constitution doesn’t make an exception to the ban on state funding in aid of private schools if the kids are really helped. It prohibits such funding, period.
I support vouchers. But the Arizona Constitution prohibits them.
Conservatives often lecture liberals that if they don’t like what the law says, they should try to change it, not ask judges to distort it through fanciful interpretations. With respect to vouchers in Arizona, conservatives should take their own advice.
• Not that the state Supreme Court justices are off the hook. A case involving the state constitutional prohibition on subsidies to private parties, the CityNorth case, has been appealed to it. A debt limit challenge may get to it in the next year or two.
These are constitutional prohibitions whose language is just as plain as that regarding aid to private schools. There are no “ifs” or “buts” in these provisions, either.
So, how the justices deal with these challenges will test their consistency, and their intellectual integrity.
These provisions should be applied with the same spare respect for the plain language of the text.
If the justices instead rely on judge-made rules and tests to distort the language to permit what is plainly intended to be prohibited, then the criticism of their voucher decision will be retroactively vindicated.
If judges twist reasoning to achieve results, then they are appropriately held to account for their results, not their reasoning.
• To help pay for his health care plan, President Obama proposed that the tax deduction the affluent get for charitable contributions be capped.
So, even though Obama is proposing that the top income tax rate be increased to nearly 40 percent, he wanted to cap the value of charitable deductions at 28 percent.
The philanthropic community squawked loudly, protesting that contributions would drop. Congressional Democrats have opposed the proposal and Obama has backed off.
Yet, Democrats remained firmly committed to Obama’s proposed increases in both wage and investment income tax rates.
Apparently, Democrats believe that marginal rates matter when it comes to giving away money, but not when it comes to making it.
Robert Robb, an Arizona Republic columnist, writes about public policy and politics in Arizona. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org