Bringing it Home: A taxing debate for Colorado | AspenTimes.com

Bringing it Home: A taxing debate for Colorado

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

On Nov. 5, Colorado voters will have a chance to vote on Amendment 66, an estimated $950 million tax increase that would fund a wide variety of educational reforms, as well as change the way state dollars are allocated to school districts.

The amendment represents the largest single tax increase in state history.

Generally speaking, Democrats consider it a reworking of the antiquated Colorado K-12 finance system that adds new school funding to reduce class sizes, ensures all Colorado schools are well-funded and provides preschool and full-day kindergarten.

Republicans, for the most part, view it as overbearing tax increase that will weigh heavily on vulnerable citizens, with hard-earned dollars going to union-driven compensation packages and an education system that hasn't proven itself through performance statistics.

Currently in Colorado, the statewide per-pupil funding is $6,652 and is projected to rise to $7,426 if the amendment passes.

Revenues will be collected through increased taxes on individuals and small businesses.

Recommended Stories For You

Colorado's personal income tax rate is 4.63 percent. Amendment 66 would implement income tax increases of 5 percent for those with an income of up to $75,000 and 5.9 percent for any income greater than $75,000.

According to the Boulder Weekly, those grossing $50,000 yearly would pay $97 more per year; those at $100,000 would pay $243 more; the $150,000 level would be $721 more; and $200,000 would be $1,281.

"There's probably never a good time for a large tax increase," said Blanca O'Leary, chairwoman of the Pitkin County Democratic Party. "But I'm a mom, and I support it. Anything we can do to invest in our kids' education is something I would support. I don't think Amendment 66 is a cure-all, but it's a major first step.

"If it passes, Colorado will stand out on the forefront of funding education."

Frieda Wallison chairs the Pitkin County Republicans and thinks now is not the time to talk about raising income taxes.

"People are still hurting terribly," Wallison said. "The economy is still quite fragile. People will have a hard time coming up with more tax money. Everyone agrees that educating our kids is important, but will this billion-dollar tax increase accomplish the goals they're reaching for? I doubt it."

So how will Amendment 66 affect the Aspen School District? According to the district's chief financial officer, Kate Fuentes, the amendment brings no promises for more money in the long run.

"It's very complicated," Fuentes said. "We'll initially see a small increase in funding if it passes. There's no guarantee how the funding will grow over time. It looks like we're going to have to find a long-term solution for funding for our schools, whether 66 passes or not. Aspen passed ballot Issue 2B last year, but the sales tax funding is only a four-year solution."

The distribution formula will allow for additional funding based on district size and amount of at-risk students. With the cost-of-living factor being removed from the new formula, districts like Aspen will be at a disadvantage with additional funds going to urban school districts.

"That's the way funding has happened historically in this state," O'Leary said. "Resort communities often put more into the pie. We have people with higher incomes and end up helping other counties in need."

mmclaughlin@aspentimes.com

Amendment 66 at a glance

If approved, Amendment 66 will increase the state’s income tax to raise the amount spent on funding public school districts from $5.5 billion to $6.4 billion, a $950 million increase. Amendment 66 also allows for the implementation of Senate Bill 213. SB-213 would lead to a major revamp of the state’s system of financing K-12 schools, including greater equity between schools of lesser financial means and schools with more substantial revenue streams. It also includes goals of increasing funding for full-day kindergarten, at-risk students and English language learners and increasing enrollment in preschool.

What supporters say:

• Colorado’s tax structure will be more equitable.

• Class sizes will be reduced.

• Will make a stronger investment in early childhood education.

• Strengthen professional development for principals and teachers.

• Invest in classroom technology.

• Establish a new funding formula for schools.

What opponents say:

• The way funds are distributed creates inequities across the state.

• The billion-dollar tax increase will negatively impact all Coloradans disposable income.

• Will drag down the economy and impact future job growth.

• More funding does not equal better students.

• No rewards or motivation for high-performance school districts.

• Will contradict the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) and allow tax revenues to be collected and spent without future voter approval.