Colorado Budget Spurs Talk of Tax Revolt

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Colorado lawmakers ended their 1989 session last week after approving an $80-million increase in spending for public schools without raising state taxes.

Education lobbyists, however, are warning that they hear the distant drums of a tax revolt.

The session included several weeks of wrangling over how much to spend on schools, followed by debate on whether on whether to raise the state income tax to forestall increases in local property taxes.

A school-finance reform law passed last year to help equalize spending among the state's 176 school districts entitles systems to a predetermined level of funding. If state funding does not fully meet districts' needs, automatic property-tax increases make up the difference.

According to one estimate, some rural districts face commercial property-tax increases of as much as 45 percent, while others face small or moderate increases despite getting a generous share of increased state aid.

"We are going to be in a state of internal struggle until the [finance-reform] act is fully implemented," Randy Quinn, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said last week.

Some of the heaviest tax increases would come in areas where taxpayers voters strongly supported a failed tax-limitation amendment on last November's ballot.

"Already, petitions are being gathered for tax limitation again," Mr. Quinn said.

To soften the potential increases, the legislature on its last day in session voted to allow districts to limit their property tax-increases

to 3.5 mills.

"It's a good decision in terms of relieving some districts of having to face big increases," said Bill Comer, chief lobbyist for the Colorado Education Association.

Education groups had favored a state income-tax increase in order to implement the new finance formula immediately.

"We contend they will ultimately have to raise state taxes to avoid a property-tax revolt," said Deborah Fallin of the Colorado Education Association.

But proposals for such a tax increase went nowhere in the legislative session.

One other major piece of education legislation--a school-choice bill--was defeated by the House. The bill, similar to one rejected last year, would have allowed students to transfer to any district in the state.--mw

Vol. 08, Issue 34

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