As Election Nears, Critics And Supporters Spar Over Education Tax
With just over three weeks until the election, the campaign asking Colorado voters to approve a $1 billion tax increase to pay for improvements to public schools are planning what they call a robust door-to-door operation.
Supporters say the goal of the amendment is to help schools reduce class sizes, provide full day kindergarten for every child, and expand the preschool program for at risk children.
“This is an incredible opportunity, that’s not an opportunity that’s going to come around often,” said Chris Watney, the president of the nonprofit Colorado Children’s Campaign. “So I think it would be very disappointing if we didn’t support this as a state. I think it would change the way we’re educating students.”
The proposal would also change how the state funds schools, and pay for reforms already in state law, such as a measure to tie teacher performance to student achievement.
“If we want to educate our kids for 21st century jobs, which is the responsibility of every parent, elected official and business leader, this is how it’s done,” Governor John Hickenlooper said.
Opponents of the amendment are quick to point out that all of these reforms would be accomplished by raising income taxes. If approved the tax rate would increase 8 percent for incomes up to $75,000. Income above that would be taxed at a higher rate.
“The biggest hurdle they have to overcome is voters will see the question; shall taxes have to increase by a giant number with a lot of zeros behind it? And that’s a tough one,” said Kelly Maher, a spokeswoman for Coloradans for Real Education Reform, an opponent of the measure.
Two years ago Colorado voters overwhelmingly struck down proposition 103, a different tax increase proposal for schools. This time around, supporters of 66 say it’s a unique proposal.
“It not only comes with additional resources for our students but it comes with real reforms and some real innovative approaches to make sure our kids are getting what they need,” said the Colorado Children’s Campaign's Chris Watney.
But opponents like Kelly Maher take issue with those claims.
“They’re promising a lot of things that aren’t written into the law. And there’s no assurance that any of the outcomes are going to get better for Colorado families,” Maher said.
Even supporters agree that passage of the amendment is a tall order.
The business group Colorado Succeeds recently endorsed the measure, but Republican lawmakers voted unanimously against sending it to the ballot. Governor Hickenlooper notes that most of the business community isn’t on board and says it’ll be a close election.
“We realize some business leaders even though they supported all the education initiatives couldn’t get around the tax increase. That’s life. We accept that. It’s what makes horse races,” Hickenlooper said.
A recent report from the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business says Amendment 66 would have a neutral or slightly positive long-term impact. The study says the tax increase would be a drag on the state’s economy, but also notes that an educated workforce would mean fewer people are incarcerated or on public assistance.