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Tax campaigns’ spending nears $1 million

Some $926,860 has been raised by campaign committees that support passage of bond issues and operating tax increases in 22 districts around Colorado.

The total is nearing three times the amount raised for district tax campaigns in 2011, but the two elections aren’t directly comparable.

Last year, 36 districts proposed a total of 43 bond issues and operating increases or mill levy overrides. Only one large district – Douglas County – was on the ballot.

This year, 30 districts are proposing 37 bonds and overrides, but four of the state’s largest districts have measures before their voters.

Proposals by the Aurora, Cherry Creek, Denver and Jefferson County districts account for $664 million of the $1.03 billion being requested by districts statewide. In a similar vein, campaign committees in those four districts have raised $736,523 of the $926,860 total, which is based on campaign finance reports filed with the secretary of state’s office as of Oct. 16. Aurora is seeking a property tax rate override for operating expenses; the other three districts all are proposing bond issues and overrides.

Only $7,775 has been raised by the three opposition committees registered this year, two in Jefferson County and one in Denver.

This year’s fundraising totals will grow, of course, because the campaigns aren’t over.

About $325,000 was raised in district campaigns for the entire 2011 election cycle. Roughly a third of that, about $105,000, was contributed in a failed Douglas County bond campaign.

The last time Aurora, Cherry Creek, Denver and Jeffco were all on the ballot was in 2008. Fundraising in Denver is running well ahead of 2008 totals, while less money is being raised in the other three districts than four years ago. (See box for details.)

Outside the metro area, the largest amounts have been raised by committees in St. Vrain – $83,794, Greeley – $17,186 and Pueblo County 70 – $14,380.

In the 2,400-student Montezuma-Cortez district, the Cortez 21C High School Committee has raised $21,750 for the campaign urging voters to approve a $21 million bond issue, part of which would be used to match a state Building Excellent Schools Today grant of $23 million.

The smallest war chest – $620 – was raised by the Best for Hi-Plains Students Committee, which is backing a $2.8 million bond issue in the 129-student Hi-Plains district of Kit Carson County. The bond would match a $14 million BEST grant to build a new PK-12 school.

Where the money comes from

Campaign committees have been tapping familiar donors this year – municipal bond firms, construction companies and architects. Community foundations also are significant contributors in some districts, and campaign committees in larger districts report substantial numbers of corporate and individual donors.

Committees in small districts generally have tapped a few local businesses and individuals for contributions. Citizens for Otis School District reported raising $2,188 of its $2,690 total from the proceeds of a pancake supper.

Individual teachers and unions also are contributors.

The Colorado Education Association has given $35,000 to campaign committees in 13 districts, including contributions of $7,000 each in Denver and Jeffco, $6,000 in Cherry Creek and $3,000 in Aurora. The Jefferson County Education Association has given $30,000 to the campaign in that district, and the Pueblo Education Association gave $3,000 to the Pueblo 70 campaign committee.

Tony Salazar, CEA executive director, said union donations are given only when members in a district request them and given proportionate to the number of members in a district. He added this year’s donations are about the same as in past years.

State law bans active campaigning by school districts, so independent citizen committees are formed to raise money and run campaigns. There are no campaign committees in eight districts, based on a review of state filings. One of those is Aspen, which isn’t proposing a bond or override but which would share a sales tax increase being proposed by the city. One committee, Yes on 3A in the Plateau Valley district of Mesa County, hasn’t filed a report.

Spending comparisons

This list shows fundraising to date in 2012 and total fundraising in 2008 in the four major districts with tax proposals in both years.

Aurora

  • 2012 – $121,587
  • 2008 – $235,380 – voters passed a $215 million bond

Cherry Creek

  • 2012 – $157,414
  • 2008 – $181,704 – voters approved a $203 million bond

Denver

  • 2012 – $312,420
  • 2008 – $270,000 (Denver Post, Nov. 5, 2008) – a $454 million bond passed

Jeffco

  • 2012 – $142,102
  • 2008 – $268,288 – the $350 million bond was defeated

Three other major districts held bond elections in 2008, including:

  • Adams 12-Five Star – An $80 million bond lost; $120,831 was raised in support
  • Douglas County – The $395 million bond lost; $94,532.69 raised
  • St. Vrain – The $189 million bond passed; $93,657.89 raised

Unless otherwise noted, totals are based on state records.

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