Proposed Colorado Tax Hike to Aid Schools Gets Drubbed at the Polls

By Andrew Ujifusa — November 05, 2013 2 min read
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A proposed $950 million tax increase to benefit Colorado public schools, Amendment 66, was soundly rejected by voters on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press, and it wasn’t close. At roughly 9 p.m. local time, Colorado voters had said “no” to the tax hike, which would also have restructured the way the state funded public schools, by a margin of about 66 percent to 34 percent.

However, there was somewhat better news for school funding advocates from the election results for Colorado’s Proposition AA, which would levy a 15 percent excise tax and a 10 percent sales tax on marijuana (the state legalized marijuana last year) and use a portion of the funds for public school construction. The AP reported that the proposition passed by a large margin.

The defeat for Amendment 66 wipes out two years of work by Colorado school funding advocates, and in particular Democratic state Sen. Mike Johnston, the architect of the school funding overhaul that got Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signature this year, but needed the approval by voters. Education employee unions and others in the state pushed hard for the amendment, saying it would make up for years of difficult budget cuts and pay for various K-12 policy changes, as well as direct more resources to needier students.

But opponents hammered the plan for a variety of reasons. Some claimed the proposal, which would have eliminated the state’s 4.6 percent flat income tax and created a progressive income tax scale (with a top marginal rate of 5.7 percent on income over $75,000) was the wrong prescription for Colorado’s economy during tough economic times. Others said that there were no guarantees that the extra money would actually be directed to classroom services for minority and English-language learners, the purported beneficiaries of the plan. And there was also criticism that the plan would unfairly bind lawmakers by requiring roughly 42 percent of general revenue to be spent on K-12.

Polling by a Republican firm showed lackluster support for the amendment, only 38 percent, but the actual poll numbers could turn out to be even worse. And the approximately $2 million in late campaign contributions from Melinda Gates and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg didn’t do enough to turn the tide.

Photo: A woman wipes away tears at an election party in Denver for proponents of Colorado’s Amendment 66 after the tax initiative was defeated in a statewide vote on Tuesday. (Ed Andrieski/AP)

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.