Colorado Succeeds, the business group that focuses on education issues, on Tuesday endorsed Amendment 66, the proposed $950 million P-12 tax increase.

Hickenlooper news conference
Gov. John Hickenlooper, flanked by Colorado Succeeds leaders, urged passage of Amendment 66 during an Oct. 8 news conference.

The broader business community has been split on A66, so the Colorado Succeeds endorsement comes as welcome news for amendment supporters. Gov. John Hickenlooper attended the group’s news conference to thank leaders for their decision.

Bob Deibel, co-chair of the group’s board, said that as a businessman he cares about taxes, but that he also cares about investing in education. Saying that state government has put education reforms in place, “We are here to hold up our end of the deal and endorse Amendment 66.” (See a list of group members here.)

Hickenlooper, after thanking the group, was effusive in his support of the amendment. “This is the single most important education reform initiative in the history of the United States,” he said.

Political observers have been chattering about business views of the amendment since the proposal was being drafted last spring. The conventional wisdom has been that business support was vital to fund a campaign to help pass such a significant tax increase.

Asked about the split in the business community, Hickenlooper said opponents – and uncommitted groups – “couldn’t get their arms around the tax increase. We can live with that.”

“I haven’t heard of anyone who’s criticized the reforms” that A66 would fund, the governor said.

The amendment proposes raising the state’s 4.63 percent personal income tax rate to 5 percent on income under $75,000 and to 5.9 percent on income above that figure. Some small business people pay their taxes on individual returns, so the tax would apply to those business earnings.

Some business groups were willing to back a flat tax-rate increase but oppose the two-step system in A66.

While numerous individual executives have endorsed Amendment 66 previously, some business groups have remained neutral, notably the Denver Metro Chamber and Colorado Concern. A few, such as the South Metro chamber and Club 20, the influential Western Slope group, are opposed. (See this list of individual and other endorsements on the website of Colorado Commits to Kids, the main support group. See this page on the Coloradans for Real Education Reform website for individuals and groups opposing the amendment.)

Hickenlooper was enthusiastic in his support of A66, saying it will reduce class sizes, provide more funding for top teachers, reduce dropout rates and focus funding the students who need the most help.

He noted that Colorado has enacted an extensive list of education reforms in recent years but “we haven’t had the money to implement them.” He argued, “This is an investment, but it’s an investment that will pay off.”

On A66’s prospects, Hickenlooper said, “It’s going to be a very close election.”