Megan Schrader, The Gazette

DENVER - As proponents of an almost $1 billion tax increase for education turned in 160,000 signatures Monday to get the issue on the November ballot, opponents rallied against the measure calling it a "billion dollar boondoggle."

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, assured taxpayers that the income tax hike would fund meaningful education reforms included in Senate Bill 213 such as early-childhood education, special education classes and smaller class sizes.

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton called that a disingenuous representation of a tax increase that will give a blank check to schools and likely be used to backfill rising pension and health care costs.

If 86,105 of the signatures turned in Monday are from valid registered voters in Colorado, taxpayers will decide in November whether to approve the proposed income tax hike.

The Secretary of State's Office has 30 days to verify the signatures.

Known as Initiative 22, the ballot question would increase the income tax from 4.63 percent to 5 percent. It would also create a "graduated" income tax that would tax any income over $75,000 at a higher 5.9 percent.

The Colorado Commits to Kids campaign estimated a person with the state median income of income of $57,000 and "normal" tax deductions would pay about $132 more a year.

The impact is greater for those with incomes over the graduated threshold as an income of $100,000 would see a $250 a year increase, and a person with an income of $150,000 would pay an additional $731.

Opponents of the measure - Coloradans for Real Education Reform - pointed out that those estimates are low for some individuals with fewer tax deductions and a higher taxable income.

For example a person with a taxable income of $45,000 a year would pay an additional $166.50 a year.

Johnston authored a massive school-finance reform bill during the last legislative session that will only take effect if voters approve a tax increase to pay for the change in the next five years.

"The voters deserve a clear understanding of where their tax dollars go," Johnston said.

His legislation re-calculates the school finance formula and puts new weight on at-risk students such as those learning English as a second language, those with learning disabilities or those living in poverty.

It also ensures a minimum standard of per-pupil funding in the state that for many schools would be an increase.

"For the first time in my life, I'm opposing a school tax initiative," said former state lawmaker Bob Hagedorn, a Democrat who focused on education issues while in office.

Hagedorn said he would like to see more emphasis on providing school choice to parents and funding charter schools at an equal level.

"Senate Bill 213 is a lost opportunity the legislators had," Hagedorn said.

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