CARBONDALE — The Roaring Fork School District Re-1 board voted 3-2 Wednesday to endorse Amendment 66, the statewide ballot proposal that would raise state income taxes by about $1 billion per year to increase K-12 education funding.
“I do think we have a responsibility to our constituents to apply reason, good judgment and thoughtfulness in this situation,” said Re-1 school board president Matt Hamilton, who admitted he was moved to support the measure after some initial concerns about its impact on local taxpayers.
Especially after local voters approved a mill levy override two years ago, Hamilton said he wasn’t sure about a state-level tax increase so soon.
But, “Amendment 66 is a positive move for this state,” he said. “It provides many new opportunities for children, both in this state and in our valley.”
Hamilton said it’s a reasonable attempt to get the state out of the education funding “pickle” caused by conflicts between three other state constitutional amendments related to tax policy — TABOR, Gallagher and Amendment 23.
Combined, the competing laws will work to make it harder to fund K-12 education equally across the state in future years, and will increase the burden on local taxpayers, he said.
The board’s decision came during a special meeting at the end of a day-long strategic planning retreat at the Bridges Center in Carbondale.
Joining Hamilton in supporting the measure were board members Richard Stettner and Terri Lott Richardson.
“I just don’t see another solution out there,” Stettner said. “We don’t have 10 years to do this, and we need something sooner rather than later.”
Dissenting, however, were board members Bob Johnson and Daniel Biggs.
“I still have reservations,” Biggs said. “Certain aspects of [Amendment 66] are good, but I just have a real hard time continuing to carry the message that this is the fix-all for education. I don’t believe that’s accurate at all.”
Biggs pointed to campaign pledges that the state funding measure will return such programs as sports, arts and music to schools that have had to cut those types of things in the face of state budget cuts and lack of local support for property tax increases.
“It’s just not honest to say that’s what this is going to do,” because those are local decisions and may very well require additional local tax measures to fully support, Biggs said.
Johnson said he’s willing to hold out for a better, bipartisan solution from the Colorado Legislature, rather than Senate Bill 213, which Amendment 66 is intended to fund. The bill passed along partisan lines in the Democratic-controlled House and Senate.
“I have a hard time believing that this is the final and best offer,” Johnson said, noting that SB 213 gives the state until 2017 to come up with a way to fund it.
Amendment 66 would increase the state income tax from 4.63 percent to 5 percent for those making up to $75,000 a year and to 5.9 percent for those making more than $75,000 per year.
In addition to making state funding more equal across the board, including smaller, rural school districts that have a smaller local tax base, the money would be used to pay for additional preschool options, and tuition-free full-day kindergarten. It would also provide extra funding for special education, gifted and talented programs and English Language Learner support.
State Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and his wife, Joyce, attended the Wednesday meeting to urge the Re-1 board against endorsing Amendment 66.
“There’s no question, everyone in the Legislature knows we need to do something with K-12 education funding,” Rankin said.
But, with a projected $1.5 billion surplus this year and another $1.1 billion projected next year, it buys the state time to come up with a better solution, he said.
“We simply should have changed the school finance formula,” absent the new programs that are included with SB 213, Rankin said.
“I would like to see us take the good parts that are in there, and there are good parts, and try to make that work,” he said.
Amendment 66 will be decided among a host of other state and local ballot questions in the Nov. 5 mail ballot election. Ballots are expected to be mailed to registered voters in mid-October.