Eagle County parties split on education tax increase
October 7, 2013
Shall state taxes be increased by $950,100,000 annually in the first full fiscal year and by such amounts as are raised thereafter by amendments to the Colorado Constitution and the Colorado revised statutes concerning funding for preschool through 12th-grade public education, and, in connection therewith, increasing the current state income tax rate on individuals, estates and trusts, and imposing an additional rate so higher amounts of income are taxed at higher rates; requiring the resulting increases in tax revenues be spent only for improvements to preschool through 12th-grade public education; allowing all tax revenues attributable to this measure to be collected and spent without future voter approval; requiring at least 43 percent of state sales, excise and income tax revenues be deposited in the State Education Fund; and repealing certain existing public education funding requirements?
EAGLE COUNTY — Like much of Colorado, local opinions are split along party lines about a proposed income tax increase for education.
Local Republicans last week came out against Amendment 66 during a presentation by one of the statewide groups opposing it.
Local Democrats said they embrace the proposal.
"Eagle County Republicans have a right to have an opinion on this, and we are expected to have an opinion on this. We think this is the wrong thing for the state of Colorado," said Kaye Ferry, chair of Eagle County's Republican party.
It would be the largest tax increase in Colorado history, and because it's an amendment to Colorado's Constitution it would be permanent, Ferry said.
"A constitutional amendment should not be used as a way to permanently increase taxes. The fact that there is no sunset clause is an abomination. All taxes should be revisited," Ferry said.
'Education is good for country'
Local Democrats have traditionally supported education proposals, and they'll likely support this one as well, said Pat Hammon, chair of Eagle County's Democratic party.
"The majority of Democrats in Eagle County support anything that supports our education system," Hammon said. "The future of our country is based on the education of our children. Anything we can do to promote education is good for our country."
Kaarl Hoopes, of Coloradans Against Unions Using Kids at Pawns, a statewide group opposing the tax increase, spoke against Amendment 66 during a meeting this week of Eagle County Republicans.
Hoopes said Colorado's economy is still too fragile, and the proposal flies in the face of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, TABOR, which prohibits governments from raising taxes without permission from the voters.
'I don't think we can afford that'
"Just as we are beginning to turn this economy around, we hit our businesses and tax payers with a tax increase?" Hoopes said. "I don't think we can afford that."
If it passes, Amendment 66 is expected to raise almost $1 billion in its first year. If Colorado's economy continues to improve, and state tax revenue increases, 43 cents of every state tax dollar must be spent on K-12 education.
"As the economy improves, our taxes would continue to increase," Hoopes said. "This is a way of circumventing TABOR, and TABOR has kept us from becoming another California."
Supporters say Colorado's schools need more money, but that it also must be spent more wisely.
Colorado state Sen. Mike Johnston, a Vail native, helped write the amendment and the accompanying Senate Bill 213. He said they began by cutting $1.3 billion from the state's education budget.
The reforms would also reallocate money based more on need than on student enrollment.
Proposed funding criteria
Among the new criteria would be the number of English language learners in a school district, as well as the number of at-risk kids in a school district, based on kids eligible for free and reduced lunch. Eagle County schools are comprised of about 50 percent at-risk children, according to this fall's student data.
Under the new formula, Eagle County's schools would receive another $4.3 million in state funding.
Colorado's charter schools could take a hit, since their student populations tend to be more Anglo and affluent, Johnston said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and email@example.com.