Colorado Voters to Decide on Temporary Tax Increase for Education

On November 1, voters in the state of Colorado will decide whether or not to increase both income tax and sales and use tax in order to fund public education.

The increase, which would begin on January 1, 2012, would raise the state income tax rate from its current 4.63% to 5.0% and the sales and use tax rate from 2.9% to 3.0%. The tax increase would last for five years.

According to the initiative’s “blue book,” produced by the Legislative Council of the Colorado General Assembly and mailed to voters this week, the state would collect an estimated $2.9 billion in new tax revenue for public education.

Proponents of the initiative state that the additional education funding provided by Proposition 103 will help reverse the recent trend of education budget cuts and that the tax increase will restore rates to 1999 levels. This increase, according to the “Blue Book” arguments in favor of the proposition, will provide relief from further education funding cuts, allowing policy makers time to implement a long-term solution to meeting the state’s educational funding needs.

According to Education News Colorado, the state’s two teachers unions have backed their endorsements of Proposition 103 with cash. The Colorado Education Association donated $50,000 and The American Federation of Teachers contributed $4,080. Senator Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, the chair of the Senate Education Committee, reportedly gave $250 to the cause.

However, opponents of the measure state that raising taxes in Colorado now may slow the state’s economic recovery. Additionally, there is concern as to the accountability of Proposition 103 to taxpayers, with no firm plan for how the $575 million in new taxpayer money will actually improve public education. “The state government already spends about $4.3 billion of its General Fund operating budget on education each year, and increasing the tax burden on Colorado’s citizens does not guarantee a higher quality public education for students,” the “Blue Book” arguments against the proposition state.

“The last thing Colorado needs in the wake of a devastating recession is a $3 billion tax hike. One that would hit just about every wage earner; every consumer; every employer,” said Victor Mitchell, campaign chair for Save Colorado Jobs, the committee leading the opposition to Proposition 103. “Yet, that’s exactly what the backers of Proposition 103 hope voters will agree to in November. This reckless and outrageous job killer, pushed by Boulder’s Sen. Rollie Health, would raise the state’s income and sales taxes-and deal a crippling blow to Colorado’s struggling economy.”

For budget year 2011-12, the state’s portion of public school funding was set at $3.7 billion for preschool through high school education and $624 million for higher education. Spending on public education represents about 50% of the state’s General Fund, the “Blue Book” states.

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