Colorado school tax hike gets on November ballot
The Associated Press
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado – A proposal to raise taxes by $3 billion over five years to help fund Colorado’s education system will be on the November ballot, Secretary of State Scott Gessler said Wednesday.
The idea from Democratic state Sen. Rollie Heath would raise the sales and use tax rate to 3 percent, up from 2.9 percent, and raise the state’s individual and corporate tax rates to 5 percent, up from 4.63 percent. The increases would be in effect from 2012 to 2017.
“I think we got a real shot at getting this done,” said Heath, a Boulder senator. He said he decided to ask for the tax increases because of repeated cuts to the state’s education budget in recent years.
Republicans oppose the proposal and Speaker of the House Frank McNulty said in a statement that “Democrats don’t get it.”
“Colorado’s hardworking families and job creators are struggling to survive in this recession. The last thing they need right now is Democrats pushing another state tax increase,” he said.
But Heath said he was heartened by the number of signatures he collected, 142,824, and that it’s a sign that voters think the state has gone too far in its education cuts. Colorado has cut hundreds of millions of dollars from its education budget in recent years and lawmakers expect to make more cuts next year.
“Fundamentally, we have to educate kids and our work force,” Heath said.
Heath needed more than 76,000 signatures and Gessler’s office said the proposal was projected to have more than 98,000 valid signatures.
Republican Sen. Bill Cadman of El Paso County criticized the proposal, saying: “You can’t save a child by bankrupting his parents.”
Eric Brown, spokesman for Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, said the governor has no plans to endorse or oppose the proposal but that he “respects Sen. Heath’s passion to keep education a funding priority in Colorado. Like any grass-roots effort, this is a question for the voters of Colorado to decide.”
“The governor made a commitment to the people of Colorado when he ran for office that he would not campaign for a tax increase this year, and he intends to keep his word,” Brown said.
Kelly Brough, CEO and president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, said education is a priority for the business community but that the organization wouldn’t support Heath’s initiative, in part because the economy is still struggling. She also said the chamber favors improving education by making changes to the system, including increased accountability for teachers and principals.
Brough said that although her organization does not support the tax hike, the group is not raising money to campaign against it.
Heath’s proposal comes as the state is defending itself in a lawsuit by parents and school districts challenging how Colorado funds its education system. Although the plaintiffs maintain they’re not seeking a monetary amount, state officials warn that if Colorado loses the lawsuit, lawmakers will be forced to increase education funding, taking up the majority of the state budget.
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