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Prop. 103 battle joined

The political fight over raising state taxes to fund schools and colleges started in earnest Thursday with dueling news conferences over an opposition study about the possible impact of Proposition 103 on employment.

While supporters of the Nov. 1 ballot measure have been organized for some time – they had to gather signatures to get the proposition on the ballot – Thursday also marked the coming-out party for a Republican-oriented opposition group, Save Colorado Jobs.

Victor Mitchell, a GOP former state representative from Douglas County, introduced the group during a Capitol news conference. He was flanked by several current Republican members of the legislature.

Conveniently for reporters, Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, and Wade Buchanan of the Bell Policy Center were hovering in the background, ready to offer their take on Mitchell’s claims.

Mitchell’s focus at the news conference was on a paper done by economist Eric Fruits of Portland State University in Oregon.

A Save Colorado Jobs news release claimed the paper found Proposition 103 “would kill nearly 119,000 jobs over the next five years and chase away $218 million in potentially taxable income over the same period.”

That does not mean, as Heath and Buchanan were happy to point out, that current jobs would be lost. Fruits projected that growth in new jobs might be slowed by higher taxes. The paper projects 14.3 percent job growth over five years without new taxes and 12.9 percent if Proposition 103 passes.

The paper actually was written last April and covered Heath’s plan and tax proposals by the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute. (Read full paper.)

Mitchell’s news conference and Heath’s and Buchanan’s subsequent chat with reporters provided a preview of the talking points each side likely will stress during the 45-day campaign.

Proponents: Heath, drawing on his background in business, economic development and government repeatedly argues that there’s no better economic development tool that a strong education system. He believes businesses won’t be deterred by what he calls a “modest” and temporary increase in tax rates. Heath sees the measure as a stopgap to stabilize K-12 and higher education funding, both of which have been slashed in recent years.

Opponents: Mitchell stressed his belief in the “job killing” dangers of the proposal and that tax increases are dangerous in a weak economy. He also said, “K-12 education is not lacking funding, it is lacking structural reform” and suggested vouchers and more charter schools as solutions to education problems. He also invoked a familiar Republican whipping boy – teachers unions – and said, “We are up against the Colorado Education Association.”

The CEA is a powerful political force in Colorado but was initially lukewarm about Heath’s plan and was the last major education group to endorse it – after Heath and his allies had gained enough signatures to get on the Nov. 1 ballot.

The campaign ahead

This is the first statewide election since 1999 with only one initiative on the ballot. There also are no statewide candidate races on the ballot this year.

So voters have only Proposition 103 to focus on.

Mitchell said, “I think we’re going to have a surprisingly high turnout” because of voter concerns about taxes and big government.

Heath didn’t predict turnout but believes voters will support the measure because of rising concerns about school budget cuts.

Mitchell repeatedly declined to say how much his campaign hopes to raise, while Heath said his target is about $300,000.

Both promised, as politicians like to do, that their campaigns would be “grass roots.”

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