Lawmakers OK school funding bill |

Lawmakers OK school funding bill

Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” The Senate gave final approval Tuesday to a school funding bill that Democrats say would stabilize residential property taxes, but angry Republicans branded the plan an unconstitutional tax increase.

The bill now goes to Gov. Bill Ritter, who proposed the idea and is expected to sign it into law.

The bill would raise an estimated $1.7 billion for education over 11 years by freezing property tax rates in districts with relatively low tax rates, blocking any declines for the foreseeable future.

In some districts with the highest rates, the property tax rate would be reduced.

Republicans said the plan amounts to a tax increase that would require voter approval under the Colorado Constitution. The GOP was furious after majority Democrats introduced the plan with no opportunity for the public to testify or for Republicans to offer amendments.

Democrats argued the plan is constitutional because it applies only to 175 school districts where voters have already agreed to allow the districts to keep more tax revenue. It does not apply to three districts where that approval has not been granted.

Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, challenged that argument. She said that after voters agreed to let those 175 districts keep more money, voters statewide approved an alternate plan, Referendum C in 2005, to increase funding for public schools.

She said voters should be given another chance to weigh in.

“I don’t why you’re afraid of sending this back to the voters,” Spence said.

Sen. Sue Windels, D-Arvada, said lawmakers don’t need to go back to voters. She said the Legislature already has three legal opinions saying the measure is legal.

Ritter said stabilizing Colorado’s school funding formula and protecting the rest of the state’s General Fund is the right thing to do for Colorado’s future.

Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, who sponsored the governor’s proposal in the House, said the School Finance Act was intended to provide thorough and uniform funding across the state but that’s not happening under the current system.

He said school districts with high property values are getting large state subsidies, while districts with low property values are paying some of the highest tax rates.

To fix the inequity, Pommer introduced an amendment to the act that would freeze mill levies in districts that have relatively low tax rates. In districts with the highest rates, the property tax rate would be reduced to 27 mills.

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