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Prop. 103 soundly rejected

Proposition 103, the proposal to raise state taxes to fund education, was defeated by a wide margin in Tuesday’s election.

With virtually votes counted statewide, the no votes totaled 63.5 percent of those counted, compared to 36.5 percent in favor.

The father of the proposal, Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, was philosophical in defeat but still worried about the future of the state’s schools. The proposal did receive a majority of votes in Heath’s home county but failed by nearly 30 percentage points in heavily Democratic Denver.

The defeat, coupled with wide rejection of local district tax increases around the state, showed “where the mood of the people was,” Heath said. He said he didn’t hear many economic worries while on the campaign trail but that economic concerns were “clearly the implication” of the vote.

“Clearly the voters were not of the mind to give a temporary reprieve. I don’t know what it’s going to take” to educate voters about the serious financial condition of the state’s schools, he added.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, said, “This is a victory for all Colorado taxpayers. We can’t help children by bankrupting their parents.” Republican legislators were vocal opponents of the measure, arguing it would hurt the state’s economy.

The measure, the only one facing all Colorado voters this election, was of major interest to education because it proposed providing up to $3 billion in additional funding over five years for schools and colleges.

It reportedly was the only tax increase proposal on any state ballot this year. Many political observers, and even some in education, were skeptical of the initiative’s chances from the start because of the state’s weak economy, the modest campaign pushing the measure and the lack of support by major political figures (Gov. John Hickenlooper was neutral) and the business community.

Proposition 103 proposed increasing the state income tax rate to 5 percent from 4.63 percent and the state portion of sales taxes to 3 percent from 2.9 percent for five years, devoting all those new revenues to education.

The higher tax rates (the same as those on the books in 1999) would have been in effect for five years. Heath, prompted by 2011 school budget cuts to propose the idea, called it a temporary fix for education funding while policymakers developed broader, more permanent solutions to state revenue issues.

State lawmakers would have decided annually how to split the money among preschool programs, K-12 schools and state colleges and universities. The legislature couldn’t have used the new money to supplant existing funding; 2011-12 spending would have been set as a floor.

Opponents made the argument that because the measure was intended to amend state law, not the constitution, lawmakers could change the provisions and divert money to other uses. Hickenlooper did say he would veto any such move if Prop. 103 passed and such an attempt was made.

Heath’s effort was a low-profile one. The main groups supporting the measure, Great Education Colorado and the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, ran a small-budget, grassroots campaign. The state’s mainline education interest groups endorsed Proposition 103.

But Heath’s campaign committee managed to raise more than $600,000 by late October, enough to pay for a modest schedule of television ads on Denver-area stations and some cable channels.

The main opposition came from groups of Republican lawmakers and conservative activists, primarily associated with the Independence Institute, who argued higher taxes would reduce job growth at a time when the state’s economy is fragile.

The opposition campaign also focused on appearances before lots of small groups, but opponents did do some radio advertising.

PROPOSITION 103

Provisions

  • State income tax rate would rise to 5 percent from 4.63 percent
  • State sales tax rate would go to 3 percent from 2.9 percent
  • New rates are same as those in effect in 1999
  • Higher rates would end in 2017

Revenue use

  • Proposition would raise an estimated $3 billion over five years
  • Additional revenue could be spent only on preschool programs, K-12 schools and state colleges and universities
  • Legislature would decide how to split revenues
  • Spending would have to be in addition to levels of 2011-12

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