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Education tax credit bills fail

The Senate Education Committee on Thursday killed two Republican-sponsored education tax credit bills, but the method used was unusual and somewhat accidental.

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster – File photo

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster – File photo

Senate Bill 13-069 would have allowed parents to take income tax credits for the cost of private school tuition or for home schooling, a Republican idea that pops up periodically in the legislature.

Freshman Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, is a prime sponsor of this year’s bill. She urged her fellow committee members to honor “the choice of families” and pass the bill.

Supporters of tax credits argue that they ultimately would save the state money because less money would be needed for public schools.

A legislative staff analysis estimated the bill would cause a $14.4 million decline in state revenue in 2013-14, rising to nearly $326 million in 2025-26. At the same time, the analysis estimated a $99 million saving in school spending by 2015-16 and a $343.7 million saving by 2025-26. (To get the details, read the staff analysis.)

Democrats and allies, including the Colorado Education Association, have consistently opposed tax credits (and school vouchers) and are skeptical of savings estimates.

Given Democratic control of the General Assembly, the bill’s doom was certain, but committee chair Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, had a big problem Thursday. One Democratic member was absent, meaning the committee was tied at 4-4, so she couldn’t muster the 5-4 vote needed to take “final action” on the bill by postponing it indefinitely.

Hudak first laid the bill over for consideration next week. But, later in the meeting, she learned that couldn’t be done because the bill faced a Thursday deadline for “final action.”

Republican members suggested she get a deadline waiver from Senate Democratic leaders, which she declined to do.

At one point the committee took an informal recess to decide what to do. Hudak made it clear the bill wouldn’t survive.

“Which form of death do you prefer?” she asked Republican members.

The bill was brought back up, the committee deadlocked and then adjourned.

Since no “final action” was taken, the bill dies at midnight because it didn’t meet the deadline requirements.

Two other GOP bills met the same parliamentary fate. They are Senate Bill 13-131, which would have allowed parents to take tax credits for “supplemental” education services such as tutoring, and Senate Bill 13-121, which would have made changes in the complicated accounting method that the state uses to fund higher education.

This absent Democrat was Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, who was on his way to Maryland to join his wife, Courtney Huffman Johnston, at the National Institutes of Health. She will undergo tests this weekend for a “neuroendocrine” disorder, according to her Facebook page and what Democratic senators told EdNews Colorado. It’s not yet known what effect Johnston’s absence will have on the planned introduction next week of his massive school finance overhaul bill.

The private school tax credit issue may be dead in the Senate but will be aired next week in the House. A measure similar to the Senate proposal, House Bill 13-1176, is scheduled for a House Education Committee hearing on Monday.

Taxes also in the air at House Finance

Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, faced a different dilemma earlier in the day with yet another tax credit bill.

An acrimonious House Appropriations Committee on gun-control bills delayed the start of the morning House floor session, which in turned delayed the start of Court’s House Finance Committee meeting.

On the panel’s agenda was House Bill 13-1151, a Democratic measure that would create a one-day sales tax “holiday” every August on sales of textbooks at college bookstores. The committee heard an explanation of the bill and brief testimony, but Court laid the bill over for a vote next week because the panel had to vacate the room for a meeting by another committee. (Learn more about the bill in this legislative staff analysis.)

(If you’re wondering about deadlines and this bill, it’s complicated. The Senate and House have slightly different deadline schedules, and different kinds of bills are subject to different deadlines. And, leaders in both houses frequently approve deadline extensions, particularly for bills sponsored by members of the majority party.)

Tax holiday and tax credit bills are numerous but not very successful this session. Another education-related tax bill, House Bill 13-1094, was killed by the finance committee just last week (see story). That measure would have allowed parents to take income tax credits for school-related supplies and fees. That bill was sponsored by a Republican, and it had a high cost in lost state revenue – more than $42 million by 2014-15.

By the way, the House Appropriations fight was just the warm-up for what’s expected to be a daylong floor House debate Friday on four Democratic gun-control bills. Among them is House Bill 13-1226, which would ban carrying of concealed weapons on college and university campuses.