Leslie Jorgensen, The Colorado Observer

DENVER – The proposed $1 billion tax increase to bolster public education got one step closer to November ballot on Monday when “Colorado for Kids” handed in nearly double the required 86,105 petition signatures. But, the effort faces significant opposition.

Coloradans for Real Education Reform officially launched their “No on Initiative 22” to fight the tax hike which the opponents assert is a bad investment that falls short of reform.

“With no safeguards in place to keep this money in the classroom, this is a bad investment,” said Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton.

“This bipartisan effort centers on the fact we recognize the need for real education reform,” said former Sen. Bob Hagedorn (D-Aurora). “One of the best drivers for improving student achievement is providing broad school choice opportunities, something sorely lacking in Senate Bill 213.”

SB 213 sponsor Sen. Mike Johnston (D-Denver) touted the measure as education reform that would add full-day kindergarten and half-day preschool, allow longer school days and sessions, reduce class size.

The bill’s funding mechanism would give higher priority to public schools with a large percentage of at-risk students of low-income families and those who are not English proficient. But the funding formula shortchanges median-income districts and charter schools.

“As Colorado families and businesses continue to gradually pull themselves out of the recession, it is more important than ever that tax dollars are spent wisely,” said Stapleton. “The last thing that this slow recovery needs is a massive tax increase that is both ineffective and inefficient in improving Colorado’s education system.”

Stapleton had opposed SB 213, which was signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper, because there is no guarantee that the massive tax increase would strictly fund classroom education.

Instead, the revenue could be siphoned to fund the teachers’ retirement fund, The Colorado Public Employee Retirement Association (PERA).

“Without structural reforms, school districts with limited budgets may be asked to take even more money from classrooms to fix our broken retirement system,” said Stapleton.

Karin Piper, executive director of Parent-Led Reform agreed with Stapleton’s concerns.

“The bill is wrong for our children and it harms Colorado’s families,” said Piper.

Initiative 22, Piper said “fails to fulfill the promise we make to our children to provide the best education possible and it unfairly burdens our families as they struggle to recover from this recession.”

Johnston and proponents for Initiative 22 claim the two-tier tax system would have minimal impact on income taxpayers. It would eliminate Colorado’s 4.63 percent flat tax. Incomes up to $75,000 would be taxed at a 5 percent rate; incomes above $75,000 would also pay 5.9 percent on earnings.

Coloradans for Real Education Reform dispute those figures. The opponents assert that the second tier tax rate is a 27 percent income tax increase on incomes higher than $75,000, and an 8 percent increase on incomes less than $75,000.

The Kids for Colorado campaign turned in more than 160,000 petition signatures, exceeding the 86,105 required to place the Initiative 22 on the November ballot.  The Secretary of State’s office has 30 days to verify that they are Colorado voters.

“I think we’re going to be fine,” said Gail Klapper of the Colorado Forum that had promoted the $1 billion tax increase for public education for the past two years.

“We’ve got a lot of people involved and enthusiastic,” said Klapper. “And (we) didn’t have a lot of trouble getting people to sign the petitions.”

Volunteers from the Colorado Education Association teachers’ union and paid circulators by Colorado for Kids gathered most of the petition signatures.

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