Tax Limits Defeated in Colorado, South Dakota, and Utah

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Public-education officials in three states expressed relief last week over the resounding defeat of tax-limitation measures they said posed a dire threat to local schools.

Voters in Colorado, South Dakota, and Utah rejected ballot initiatives that would have reversed recent tax increases and sharply limited the ability of local governments to raise property taxes.

The tax measures were among 50 education-related proposals in 30 states decided by voters on Nov. 8.

Elsewhere across the nation, Georgians rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have transformed the office of state school superintendent from an elective to an appointive post. State lotteries were approved in Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, and Minnesota. And measures granting some 17-year-olds the right to vote were approved in Nebraska but not in Hawaii.

One of the most contentious tax-limitation battles occurred in Utah, where three related constitutional amendments would have limited property-tax rates, reduced taxes on income, sales, gasoline, and cigarettes to their 1986 levels, and provided income-tax credits to parents with children in private schools.

All three measures were defeated by margins of three-to-two or greater. Initiative A, the proposal to limit property taxes, lost by a vote of 61 percent to 39 percent. Initiative B, to roll back other taxes, was defeated 62 percent to 38 percent, and Initiative C, the tuition-tax-credit measure, by a vote of 70 percent to 30 percent.

"We're certainly pleased to have beaten back for the moment this threat to education," said Cheryl May of Taxpayers for Utah, a coalition of groups that opposed the measures.

State budget analysts had estimated that the measures would have cut state and school district revenues by at least $405 million annually if approved.

Backers of the amendments, including Howard Stephenson of the Utah Taxpayers Association, attributed their defeat to the "scare tactics" of opponents and the fact that three separate initiatives appeared on the ballot. "If we had gone with just one, we might have won," he said.

Leaders of Utah's tax protest, Mr. Stephenson noted, will be keeping a close eye on the newly re-elected Republican governor, Norman H. Bangerter, to see if he follows through with a campaign pledge to implement a tax-limitation plan.

Mr. Bangerter, who narrowly avoided defeat, was the target of widespread criticism over his decision last year to seek a state-record $166-million tax hike for public education.

"If he doesn't deliver on tax limitation, then we will begin the initiative process again," he said.

Colorado voters soundly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have reduced state income taxes to 90 percent of their 1987 levels; set property taxes at 1 percent of market value; and required voter approval for future tax increases.

Opponents of the measure had warned that it would have reduced school districts' revenues by $1158million next year and by $230 million in 1990 if approved.

The proposal, which was defeated by a vote of 58 percent to 42 percent, was similar to one rejected by voters two years ago. In both cases, strong support for the measures dwindled steadily as Election Day approached.

"If it had passed, I don't think we realized how much uncertainty it would have brought to government," said Dan Stewart, assistant state commissioner of education. "Amendment 6 just didn't fit Colorado."

Douglas Bruce, a Colorado Springs real-estate investor who led the drive for the initiative, expressed disappointment with the state's voters. "The people decided they don't want to be free," he said. "They want the government to decide how much tax money to take out of their pockets."

South Dakotans, meanwhile, voted 61 percent to 39 percent to reject a similar tax-limitation proposal.

Amendment C would have set taxes on farms at 1 percent of their 1984 values, and at 2.5 percent of value that year for all other property. In addition, tax increases would have been limited to 2 percent annually.

"It's certainly a sigh of relief for education that this was not passed," said James Hansen, the state's secretary of education and cultural affairs.

Opponents of the amendment said it would have reduced districts' revenues by $75 million annually.

In other action on education-related ballot measures:

Georgia voters decided 60 percent to 40 percent to keep the office of state school superintendent anel10lelected position.

The constitutional amendment's defeat was a setback for Gov. Joe Frank Harris, who lobbied hard for its approval. The Governor and other backers had argued that making the state school chief an appointee of the state board of education would have helped to depoliticize the job.

The Georgia Association of Educators and several other state education groups opposed the measure, noting that state board members are already appointed by the governor. The proposal's approval, they argued, would have concentrated too much power in the governor's hands and would have diminished local control.

Lewis Massey, an aide to Governor Harris, speculated that the proposal was rejected because voters were overwhelmed by the sheer number of constitutional amendments on the ballot. Ten of the 15 proposals were defeated.

Voters in four states approved lotteries, but only one is certain to earmark revenues for education.

In Idaho, lawmakers anticipating the lottery measure's approval voted earlier this year to split half of all proceeds between two accounts for school and state buildings.

Kentucky voters last week authorized their legislature to establish a lottery. Gov. Wallace G. Wilkinson has said he will call a special session this month and ask lawmakers to spend the game's first-year revenues for early-childhood and senior-citizen programs and to provide a one-time bonus for Vietnam veterans.

Indiana officials have not yet decided how they will use funds from their new, voter-authorized lottery. Proceeds from the new Minnesota lottery will be used for rural development and to clean up the environment.

Nebraska voters approved a measure that allows 17-year-olds to vote in primaries and other elections if they will turn 18 by the time of the general election. A similar measure in Hawaii, which would have allowed 17-year-olds to vote if they turn 18 by Dec. 31 in an election year, was defeated.

Voters in that state, however, approved a constitutional amendment that will allow the Hawaii State Student Council to appoint a nonvoting student member to the state board of education.

Massachusetts voters rejected a measure that would have forced the shutdown of the state's nuclear power plants, Yankee Rowe and Pilgrim.

Teachers in some communities surrounding the Pilgrim plant, which has been closed since 1986, have said they would not cooperate with evacuation plans in the event of a nuclear emergency. (See Education Week, Oct. 5, 1988.)

Arkansas voters rejected the proposed "fair tax amendment," which would have made it easier for the legislature to increase income and property taxes. Backers said current restrictions on such tax hikes have made the state disproportionately dependent on its sales tax, which hits the poor hardest and makes the state budget too vulnerable to economic downturns.

Illinois voters defeated a measure calling for a state constitutional convention. The Illinois Education Association opposed the question because some proponents had said they would use such a session to try to limit or freeze property taxes.

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