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Local early childhood funding threatened by Colorado anti-tax group

An anti-tax group wants to overturn a law allowing local governments to create special districts to pay for early childhood education.

The Colorado Union of Taxpayers received approval Friday to gather signatures to try to repeal House Bill 1052.

That bill allows local governments to ask voters to approve special districts and seek voter approval for taxes to provide services from birth to age 8. Services could include early care, education, mental health, health, prevention, intervention, and more.

The bill passed the House 50-13 and the Senate 23-12, with bipartisan support. Gov. Jared Polis signed the bill April 3, but it includes a clause allowing citizens to petition to bring it to a vote. That hasn’t happened since 1932, when voters overturned a tax increase on oleomargarine.

Karl Honegger, a former Broomfield City Council candidate and board member of the taxpayer group that filed the petition, said the idea was to raise awareness among taxpayers about the measure.

“We really want to elevate the discussion before the implementation of such a policy,” he said.

But state Sen. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican and bill sponsor, said the move mystifies him. He noted that the bill merely allows local governments to ask voters to create districts, and voters could reject them.

“I don’t understand it,” Rankin said. “I think there are plenty of other things that are bigger and more important.”

“It’s very much local controlled,” he added. “Let local voters decide how they want to support their kids. There’s no new tax in there. I just don’t understand why people would not want local communities to solve their own problems.”

Summit County approved a new tax last fall to pay for preschool assistance for 4-year-olds. But HB1052 would allow a wider array of services, determined by local governments.

Stacy Petty, coordinator of the Rocky Mountain Early Childhood Council, said the bill would give communities flexibility to make decisions at the local level.

“Passing this though doesn’t do anything yet,” Petty said. “It just creates the possibility of local communities being able to make the decision to establish a special district for early childhood.”

Honegger said the taxpayers organization is concerned about potential competition to private daycare operators, although he acknowledged the bill doesn’t mention setting up government-operated daycare centers.

In order to put the measure on the 2020 ballot, Colorado Union of Taxpayers would need to collect 124,632 valid voter signatures, an expensive endeavor. Opponents of the National Popular Vote also are seeking to overturn that law.