On Monday, Boulder Democrat Rollie Heath unveiled a ballot initiative for this fall that would raise Colorado taxes by $1.63 billion over three years to help rescue the state’s suffocating education system.
Heath, who sits on the Senate Education Committee, said if voters approve the measure, it would raise the state sales tax from 2.9 percent to 3 percent, and the individual and corporate income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 5 percent.
The Legislature is looking at slashing $375 million from next year’s K-12 budget, and $36 million from the higher ed budget.
“We’ve got to stop the bleeding now,” said Heath. “The status quo is not an option.”
Heath lamented that Colorado is 48th in the nation in tax revenue per $1,000 of income, which equates to “dismal” education funding, he said.
If voters approve the measure, it would raise a just over $1.63 billion between January 2012 and December 2014, when the measure would expire and tax rates would return to their current level.
So far Heath has no official backers, but that he will shop the initiative around to both the business community as well as the education community in an effort to drum up political support.
That support won’t come from the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, though.
Stephannie Finley, who runs governmental affairs for the Chamber, said the measure is “the antithesis of what we believe.”
“Jump-starting the economy does not involve raising taxes,” said Finley. “Why would you put that on business right now?”
Capitol Republicans also decried Heath’s idea as a mistake, and said there’s no way voters will approve a tax hike.
“The word ‘non-starter’ comes to mind,” said Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs.
Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, pointed out while Colorado may be near the bottom of the pile nationally when it comes to collecting tax money for education, the amount the state actually pays out puts Colorado at 34th nationally, according to data from the 2007-2008 school year, the most recent available national statistics.
He also said there’s no guarantee that any money raised would actually be put toward education, since it will all go into the General Fund.
“Where’s the integrity? Where’s the guarantee that it’s going to go to schools?” King asked.
Heath agreed during a press conference that though the money will be intended for education, there’s no way to ensure it actually will.
But Sen. Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, said they have to try.
“We can’t continue to run the state this way. We’re running it into the ground. We’ve got to make substantive changes,” he said. “Colorado residents like to be allergic to the words ‘tax increase,’ but they’re going to have an anaphylactic reaction to closing the school in their neighborhood and lowering their own property values.”
Morse said that an employee earning $40,000 would pay $148 per year more in taxes, based on the proposed income tax increase of 0.37 percent.
House Majority Leader Amy Stephens said Morse is using “fuzzy math,” and that even if he’s correct, that’s too much of a burden for working families to shoulder.
The measure would go into effect Jan. 1 2012, and Heath said it would raise $285 million in its first six months. That money would apply to the 2011-2012 fiscal year, and so would not completely cover the expected $375 million cut to K-12. In the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the measure would raise an estimated $532.6 million. In the 2013-2014 fiscal year, that number would jump to $562.3 million. And in the first six months of the 2014-2015 fiscal year, the measure would raise $296.85 million. It would sunset Jan. 31 2014.
Heath only has a little over a month to make the ballot–the deadline for filing ballot initiatives with the state is April 8, and the threshold for ballot access is 85,854 signatures of registered voters.