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Congressional Budget for the United States Government for Fiscal Year 2007

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. CHAFEE. Mr. President, I further ask unanimous consent that Senators HAGEL, COLLINS, KOHL, COLEMAN, and ROBERTS be added as cosponsors if they are not already so listed.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. CHAFEE. I rise today to offer an amendment that moves us closer to honoring the promises we made when we enacted the Education For All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 which later became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA. IDEA has its genesis in the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. As we all know, this decision declared separate but equal is inherently unconstitutional. Prior to 1975, it was estimated that 2 million young people either were not receiving any public educational services or the services they were receiving were inadequate.

Based on the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, parents of disabled children sought redress through the courts. In 1972, the District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in PARC v. Pennsylvania and the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia in Mills v. Washington, DC Board of Education applied the principle in Brown to the education of disabled children. As a result, States felt compelled to provide educational services to individuals with disabilities and sought the Federal Government's help in providing those services.

On November 18, 1975, the House of Representatives passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act by a vote of 404 to 7. The Senate followed the next day by passing the bill by a vote of 87 to 7. They were overwhelming majorities, as they should have been.

As it was enacted, IDEA mandated that States provide public education to all children, and it also must provide a free appropriate public education to special needs students. In return, the Federal Government promised to pay 40 percent of the per-pupil expenditures for students with disabilities. Unfortunately, we have failed to fulfill our promise to this program. We have made great strides since 1995 when we were contributing just 7.3 percent of the cost. I would like to say a little bit about who pays these costs. There is a lot of talk in this Chamber about income taxes and marginal rates and dividend taxes and capital gains taxes. There is not enough talk in this Chamber about property taxes and that these special education costs are borne by the property tax payer. Now, the income tax--obviously you pay more the more you make no matter what the percentage. The more you make, the more you pay. The less you make, the less you pay. If a streak of bad luck hits and you unfortunately lose your job, you pay less income tax. The same thing with a sales tax. You don't have to buy the deluxe model, whatever it might be. You can buy the economy model and pay less sales tax. If you want to buy a Cadillac, you pay more sales tax. If you buy a Chevrolet, you pay less sales tax. That is your choice. But with property taxes, they are always there. You lose your job, that property tax is always there. And for many people, even if they have paid for that house, their castle, whatever it might be, their 2-bedroom castle, 10-bedroom castle, those property taxes are still there. And if an area gets gentrified or increases in value, sometimes those property taxes can soar. So for people on fixed incomes in particular, this is a very difficult tax, especially compared to income and sales taxes. And this IDEA is borne by the property tax payer.

In fiscal year 2005, we were providing 18.5 percent--far from the goal of 40 percent for IDEA--and last year, we actually regressed. We went down to only 17.8 percent of our promised 40 percent for IDEA--contributing only 40 percent. We are not to 40 percent of these special education costs which are borne by the property tax payer. Essentially what these percentages mean is this: For fiscal year 2006, we provided $10.5 billion for part B grants to States, and our Federal share last year should have been $23.8 billion--far, far away from our goal. In fiscal year 2007, the President has proposed a $100 million increase. Our estimated full funding cost is $25.1 billion. Under this proposal, we fall further behind, and my amendment would increase funding by $2 billion and have the Federal Government pay at least half of what was promised or 20 percent. We are only going half of what was promised back in 1975.

Mr. President, our budget decisions have real-life consequences for our constituents. The burden of the Federal Government's failure to live up to its promises as I said is borne by these property tax payers. Full funding of IDEA is not a choice for State and local schools; it is a mandate. Schools are the largest cost to property tax payers; sometimes as much as 80 percent of the municipal cost is borne by its tax payers. It is usually above 50 percent. For any municipality all across the country, the most rapidly increasing school costs are in special education.

Listen to this. In North Providence, while general school spending has gone up $11 million or 19 percent over the last 5 years, special education has gone up $7.5 million or 74.9 percent in 5 years. And this is typical. That is just one town in Rhode Island, North Providence, RI. General school spending has gone up 19 percent over 5 years, special education has gone up 74 percent. And that is typical.

The Federal Government has an obligation, as we set forth in 1975, to help with these rising costs. That property tax is a tough tax to pay, as we all know. The IDEA burden on school districts is increasing because the costs are rising the more we learn about children's disabilities. We are getting better at diagnosing, but that is why these costs are increasing so much.

Mr. President, I thank the chairman for his continued leadership on this issue. I also thank Senators COLLINS, KOHL, COLEMAN, and ROBERTS for their support.


Mr. CHAFEE. Mr. President, the State of New Hampshire doesn't have an income tax or State sales tax. All of its revenue is generated by a property tax. Am I correct?

Mr. GREGG. We do have a State corporate income tax but all of the school funding in the State essentially is generated by local property taxes--the vast majority of it. There is a sliver of it that comes from the State government but it is not a significant amount in the treasury overall.

Mr. CHAFEE. Does the Senator hear from his school committees and local councilmen about the rising costs of special education and the difficulty that places on the property tax payer?

Mr. GREGG. Mr. President, there is no question that the Senator from Rhode Island has touched on an important subject with this amendment, which is the fact that the Federal Government has never fully lived up to the commitment to special education as initially made. We have made dramatic progress under this President, especially in comparison to the prior Presidency. We are almost up to 20 percent of funding. But there was an original commitment of 40 percent. Certainly every community in New Hampshire--and I am sure Rhode Island--feels they have to pick up a Federal share from here and take it from some other part of the education which they think is important in order to pay the Federal share of special education.


Mr. CHAFEE. Mr. President, I am a proud original cosponsor of Senator BURNS's amendment to the budget resolution that increases VA funding by $823 million. Properly caring for our veterans is our Nation's duty. We asked these men and women to risk their lives in service of our country, and medical care is the least our country can give in return.

The President's budget request for VA medical services assumes an added $795 million in revenues; but it does this by more than doubling copays and instituting a $250 enrollment fee for certain categories of veterans. The cost of $795 million then is shifted from the Government to veterans themselves.

Not only would many veterans have to pay higher fees under the President's proposals, but those who could not afford the fees would have no choice but to abandon VA healthcare altogether.

Especially in a time of war, a policy that leads to increased denial of service to veterans is simply unacceptable. Battlefield medicine has made huge strides in the last few decades. The result has been a much higher percentage of wounded soldiers living through their initial injuries, able to return home to their families. These wonderful advances in medicine deserve and receive our praise, but they mean that the VA will be caring for more and more injured soldiers as they return home. And many of these injuries, such as burns, amputations, and blindness, are of the type that will require care for a lifetime. The United States owes these injured soldiers this care, and thus the funds to provide it should not come from other veterans.

Senator Burns' amendment will address these problems by adding $795 million to the VA budget in order to eliminate the higher copays and enrollment fees. Furthermore, it adds another $28 million to compensate for cuts in VA medical R&D.

I will proudly cast my vote for this veterans healthcare funding measure, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.


Mr. CHAFEE. Mr. President, I call this amendment the Property Tax Relief Amendment of 2006. This amendment moves funding of IDEA to 20 percent of the cost of a municipality, only 20 percent of the promised 40-percent goal set in 1975.

Schools account for the majority of property taxes and special education costs are rising much faster than inflation. If we fund this to 20 percent, it will go right down to the property tax payer. We all know the property tax is one of the most difficult taxes of all we pay.

I urge passage of this amendment.


Mr. CHAFEE. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to add Senator Warner and Senator Santorum as cosponsors of the amendment.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. CHAFEE. I also add that of all the talk about tax relief in this Chamber, we do not get enough talk about property tax relief.

I urge your support for this amendment.

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