October 22, 2013
Amendment 66 is not as simple as the television ads supporting it imply.
If you believe the Colorado Commits to Kids campaign, which claims “small price, big change,” students across Colorado will get all-day kindergarten, gym class, one-on-one instruction and music and art classes for an investment of only $133 per year.
What these ads fail to explain is that $133 per year per household, which is based on Colorado’s median income of $57,685, adds up almost $1 billion in tax revenue annually and represents the largest tax increase in state history.
And there is nothing in Senate Bill 213, which Amendment 66 funds, that specifies how the tax money generated by the new two-tiered income tax would be spent. Some of it will be used to implement all-day kindergarten and preschool programs, which is a good investment, but there is no guarantee that districts or the state will use that money to restore cuts to programs like music or physical education.
In a nutshell, Amendment 66 would raise the state individual income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 5 percent on the first $75,000 of taxable income and to 5.9 percent for all taxable income more than $75,000. The extra money would be used to fund public schools under a new formula for distributing state and local money to school districts. Amendment 66 also repeals Amendment 23, which requires student per-pupil funding to increase by at least the rate of inflation annually, and the proposed amendment requires that at least 43 percent of state income, sales and excise tax receipts be used for public education.
Amendment 66 is the funding portion of Senate Bill 213, which overhauls the state’s funding formula for education but fails to provide specific, significant plans for education reform. The money generated by the new tax system will be earmarked specifically for education, but how much of that money actually will end up in the classroom and how that money will improve the state’s educational system is unclear and leaves too many unanswered questions.
Amendment 66 does not have any provisions that prevent a district from using money as it sees fit. It creates a kindergarten through 12th-grade education fund, which includes administration, meaning money could be spent outside of the classroom and at the administrative level. There also are no clear mechanisms in the amendment for measuring the results of how this increased spending is improving Colorado’s educational system.
For Steamboat Springs, where the median income is about $64,000, average taxpayers will pay about $150 more per year in taxes under Amendment 66, and the tax implication increases significantly for those making $75,000 or more. Local school district officials have estimated that Steamboat Springs School District patrons will pay about $6.7 million per year in new taxes to the state if the amendment passes, and the school district will receive about $1.5 million back.
Steamboat Springs students do stand to benefit from Amendment 66 with an increase of $353 in per-pupil expenditures. Hayden and South Routt also will gain per-pupil expenditure increases of $522 and $375, respectively. But how that money will be used to improve education at the state and local levels remains unclear. In fact, the implications of Amendment 66 are so nebulous that the Steamboat Springs School Board voted not to support the measure.
The Steamboat Pilot & Today supports education, but we do not support a measure that seeks to impose the largest tax in state history without a solid plan for real education reform with measurable outcomes. Throwing money at a problem doesn’t work. Schools must have significant tax support to succeed, but it’s wrong to assume that dollars alone equal success.
The newspaper also continues its stand against legislating by constitutional amendment. Using a constitutional amendment (Amendment 66) to fix the problems created by another constitutional amendment (Amendment 23) does not make good political sense. Constitutional amendments linked to funding mandates tie legislators’ hands and limit our elected officials’ ability to create policy, appropriate funds and effectively run the government. And ultimately, the net result is less accountability.
Amendment 66 imposes an additional tax burden on state taxpayers without the payoff of true education reform. The new funding formula seeks to redistribute tax money more equitably across the state’s school districts, but it does not reward districts for student achievement. And there is no guarantee the money raised by the new tax will be spent as promised.
We encourage voters to vote “no” on Amendment 66.