Arrow-right Camera
Go to e-Edition Sign up for newsletters Customer service
Subscribe now

This column reflects the opinion of the writer. To learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column, click here.

Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Apology by anti-tax group falls short

You’ve got to hand it to the Citizens for Responsible Taxation.

When they go irresponsible, they go big. They’ll overstate the amount of school-funding measures by about 100 percent. They mischaracterize continuing taxes as “NEW” taxes or “TAX INCREASES” or, best of all, “NEW TAX INCREASES.” Lately, they reached a new low by exaggerating a proposed tax in the Orchard Prairie district by 10 times.

When they “correct” their irresponsibility, on the other hand, they go super, super small. So small you wonder if anyone will notice.

The Citizens for Responsible Taxation – the anti-school smear group funded by Duane Alton, who has made it his life’s mission to deny money to schools – has returned to its noble work recently, opposing school-funding measures in East Valley, Coeur d’Alene and Orchard Prairie. Orchard Prairie is a tiny district northeast of Spokane, with about 75 students in grades K through 8. It’s asking voters for a levy to help cover shortfalls in state funding, and the responsible citizens sent out one of their typical yellow, scare-headlined fliers in opposition.

It said the district was asking for $2,490 over two years from the owner of a $100,000 home.

Trouble is, the responsible figure is $249.

Or, if you want to put it another way: $10.38 a month.

Days and days later – as voters pondered both the erroneous flier and their ballots – these responsible citizens responded to complaints from Orchard Prairie officials with a truckling, obsequious email that glibly sums up what happened without really saying what happened: “An innocent mistake.”

The letter, signed by Alton and his right-hand man, John Beal, goes on to say: “It has never been our intention to mislead, misrepresent or misinform the voters.”

It’s possible this is just their idea of a joke.

The citizens have sent out another flier with the math corrected – and everything else still grossly wrong. It still characterizes the properly mounted levy as a “SNEAK ELECTION.” It describes the levy – which would continue a current tax – as a “NEW PROPERTY TAX INCREASE.”

This is what the responsible citizens meant, I guess, when they wrote, in their message to Orchard Prairie school board member Lorna St. John: “We are committed to well informed and civil dialogue among mature and community oriented citizens. We can assume we all love children, their wholesome and enlightening educational experience, our property and the debt free future we want them to inherit. We are living in very difficult times, requiring ethical and moral choices in governing our affairs and leaving our children a legacy of virtue and freedom. May God help us all to sacrifice where and when we can. Our families and future depend on today’s decisions. May they be wise, circumspect and benevolent.”

Ah, yes. Wisdom, circumspection and benevolence. Ethical and moral choices. Civil dialogue.

May God help us all.

This nonsense is as old as the hills and transparent as the sky, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Bond measures in Mead and Central Valley both failed earlier this year after misinformation campaigns by the group. It’s never been hard to appeal to the simple financial self-interest of voters – at any given time, at least half of us think “No! No! No!” is a political argument and not a tantrum – and it’s even more effective when you can ennoble that self-interest by demonizing schools.

I wrote about this gang once before, and while none of them saw fit to defend themselves at the time, once the bond requests failed Beal wrote me a few snarky, gloating emails, similar in spirit to notes received by others who dared to question the group. He seemed outraged that I had mocked their claims that a love for children was their primary motivation in attacking every school-funding proposal in sight. This claim – and Beal’s umbrage – are hilarious, given that they routinely and vigorously mock the notion that teachers, administrators and school supporters are acting out of any concern for children whatsoever.

It’s all just a big scam, see, to get rich on the backs of the poor, overburdened taxpayer.

Yes, indeed. In these difficult times, those ethical and moral choices sure can be a bugger.

The responsible citizens, Alton, Beal and Marilyn Montgomery, don’t live in these districts. Alton does, however, own land all over the place. A cynic might suspect that he simply finds it objectionable to pay taxes, and so he’s hired a couple of lackeys to carry his water. The state disclosure reports show Alton is the major donor to the group (at $25,000) and that Beal and Montgomery have been paid for their hard work on the front lines of obfuscation.

For all the mistakes – intentional and innocent – that these responsible citizens make, they do get one thing very right, and it doesn’t have a thing to do with Mr. Alton’s tax bill.

Our families and future depend on today’s decisions.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or

More from this author