Schwartz, Heath begin drumbeat for tax hike at Aspen stop
ASPEN – State senators Gail Schwartz and Rollie Heath were in Aspen on Tuesday stumping for Initiative 25, a statewide measure that would put $536 million a year into public education for the next five years.
“Resort towns and rural Colorado are facing some of their greatest educational challenges ever right now,” said Schwartz, speaking to members of the Aspen and Roaring Fork school district boards, representatives of the Aspen Community Foundation and Aspen Skiing Co., which hosted the event at the Limelight Lodge. “And that is why we are here today … to begin to effect change.”
Initiative 25, which supporters hope to have on the Nov. 1 ballot, would raise the state income tax from 4.63 percent to 5 percent and the state sales tax from 2.9 percent to 3 percent. The tax increase, which equates to about $150 per year for a family with a median income of $55,700, would return the tax rates to their 1999 levels. Under Colorado law, tax increases can be made only with voter approval.
In order to get the measure on the November ballot, however, Support our Schools for a Bright Colorado must collect approximately 86,000 valid signatures from registered Colorado voters by Aug. 1. Tuesday’s stop in Aspen was part of a whirlwind tour of the Western Slope designed to drum up support – both financial and philosophical – for the initiative. In fact, a few people who attended the meeting wrote checks in support of the effort while seven others collected petitions and will begin circulating them locally.
Fred Peirce, president of the Aspen Board of Education, could not endorse the initiative immediately, but said it likely would be discussed at an upcoming board retreat.
Budget cuts at the state level, however, have affected the Aspen School District. Colorado currently ranks 49th in K-12 spending compared to total personal income, and, in 2009, Colorado spent $1,781 less per student than the national average.
“I won’t vote on another budget that devastates education,” Heath said. “I just won’t do it. So I had to ask, ‘What can we do?'”
Thus the impetus for Initiative 25. And while Schwartz, Heath and Carol Hedges, fiscal project director for the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, admitted Tuesday that greater reform is necessary to fix the state’s school funding problem, this tax will offer a “five-year timeout from education cuts.”
“It’s a time-out, if you will … a tourniquet, a Band-Aid,” Heath said. “It will stop the bleeding for now.”
Hedges agreed, saying that perhaps the most important aspect of Initiative 25 is that it will spur the conversation about long-term finance reform because someone finally “had the guts to talk about the revenue side of things.”
“The time wasn’t right to take on the larger reform, but at the end of the day, we couldn’t do nothing,” she said. “We couldn’t stop moving forward.”
Said Heath: “Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. And that is what we are doing with this initiative.”
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