GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A provision in Amendment 66 that would dedicate at least 43 percent of the state’s annual general fund to K-12 education actually lowers the amount currently being spent for that purpose, Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Diana Sirko said.
“That frees up money for other needs,” Sirko said, in making a case for the measure at the Glenwood Springs Chamber’s Issues and Answers election forum Wednesday.
As it is now, as much as 56 percent of the state budget has been spent to fund public school districts, she said.
According to the Legislative Council Bluebook, Colorado has spent an average of 46 percent of its general fund on education over the past 13 years, and is spending about 40 percent this year.
Between a lower fixed amount from the state’s general budget, and the $950 million that’s expected to be generated annually through a state income tax hike that’s also proposed in Amendment 66, it goes a long way to move Colorado closer to the national average in per-student spending, Sirko said.
For an extra $130-$150 per year for a family of four, on average, it’s a good deal to improve the quality of education in the state, she said.
But that could come at the cost of small businesses while the state’s economic recovery is still fragile, said Steve Reynolds, a Glenwood Springs businessman and current chairman of Club 20, who spoke at the forum against Amendment 66.
Club 20, a Grand Junction-based association representing business and local government interests on the Western Slope, voted recently to oppose Amendment 66, which appears on the Nov. 5 mail ballot.
“Club 20 believes in a strong, well-funded education system,” Reynolds said. “But we do not believe that throwing nearly one billion dollars at the education bureaucracy is going to help students perform better.”
The proposed two-tiered income tax hike, raising the tax rate from 4.63 percent to 5 percent for the first $75,000 of income, and to 5.9 percent above that income level, “could significantly damage small businesses in Colorado,” Reynolds said.
Especially for those earning above $75,000, “that’s money that will go to taxes that they could instead be using to hire more people,” he said.
In any case, the state constitution is not the place to address education funding, he said, because of the unintended, often conflicting consequences that have resulted from other constitutional measures such as Amendment 23, Gallagher and TABOR.
Another provision of Amendment 66 would repeal Amendment 23, which was approved by state voters 10 years ago and was intended to provide a consistent source of funding for K-12 education.
“It was seen as a way to protect education” from the revenue limits contained in TABOR [Taxpayers Bill of Rights], and the Gallagher Amendment’s shifting of the property tax burden from residential to commercial property owners, Sirko said.
Instead, it worked in recent years to keep the state from restoring the $1 billion in education cuts that had been made in previous years, she said.
“Amendment 66 allows us to make some in-roads to correct those issues, and address them in a timely manner,” Sirko said.
Currently, Colorado is spending about $2,000 less per student than the national average and ranks 45th in education spending, she said.
Amendment 66 would still only increase the amount the state spends per student by about $1,000, moving Colorado up to 41st among the 50 states, she said.
“No one likes a tax increase, but this is a small price to pay for good schools,” Sirko said.
The annual election forum also included statements and responses to questions regarding the Glenwood Springs Fire mill levy questions 2A and 5A on the ballot, and a reading of pro and con statements regarding the Proposition AA statewide marijuana tax proposal.
Colorado Mountain Colorado Board of Trustee candidate Jay Rickstrew also made a pitch for his election, while incumbent CMC board member Mary Ellen Denomy was unable to attend. She had a statement read on her behalf by Anita Sherman of Glenwood Springs.
Ballots for the Nov. 5 election were mailed earlier this week to Garfield County voters and statewide, and should be received this week. For questions, or to request a ballot, call the Garfield County Clerk’s Office at 384-3700 in Glenwood Springs, or 625-0882 in Rifle.