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October 17, 2013
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Vail Daily column: 66 worth the hit in the wallet?

Tax measures on the ballot boil down to this root question: Is what we’ll get worth what we’ll spend?

And so campaigns for a measure will tend to pump up what we’ll get, and play down the cost.

Opponents will negate what we’ll get, and raise the roof about what we’ll pay.

Voters often find themselves more in the role of jurors trying to sort through the exaggerations than citizens matching straight information to their values.

Well, even straight information is impeached as rhetoric. This leaves diligent, intelligent voters pretty much in the same position as those who waste no time with citizenship at all with so many other weighty everyday matters, mainly involving TV shows and celebrity scandalettes.

So the fate of a plan to raise $950 million to improve education statewide — Amendment 66 — will rest on the overriding value conflict between seeing the need to fund the schools better vs. the cost of the tax increase sought.

I believe the research showing Colorado near the bottom of per-pupil education funding among the states. I also well understand that simply spending money doesn’t directly equal improvements in education.

But it’s clear to me that we need to fund our schools better — so long as the reforms are reasonably transparent, the money goes to the right places and we can see the results.

I think Amendment 66 will do that. Is it perfect? Surely not. Is it better than today’s train wreck? Of course.

And is the price worth it? Ah, there’s the question.

Nearly a billion dollars more is a lot to ask.

I’m not sure the advertising hook of “only $133” gets you this, and this, and this is such a great idea. It’s misleading, which ultimately creates doubt about how much supporters can be trusted. That’s not a good place to be if selling a tax increase of any kind.

That amount is taken from the median annual income in Colorado, $57,000, which translates to an average of $35,700 after taxes are taken out, along with deductions and exemptions.

That’s assuming that income after taxes in our state is 62 percent of what we are paid. Yours and mine will vary depending on our different situations. Here’s a handy calculator for determining the amount your income tax would increase with passage of Amendment 66, according to the state’s legislative council: http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite/CGA-LegislativeCouncil/CLC/1251644845398.

Amendment 66 proposes to raise the state income tax from a flat 4.63 percent — among the lower state income taxes in the country — to 5 percent on up to $75,000 in taxable income and up to 5.9 percent on income above $75,000 after taxes and all are taken out.

If you earn in the higher income bracket, then your tax bill would grow considerably. That’s the slight majority of us, I believe. Most of us would pay more than that sounds-too-good-to-be-true $133 more a year for all this reform. There’s a difference between “median” and “average,” after all.

If your annual income is $100,000 after taxes, for instance, then you can expect to pay $595 more. If you make $1 million after taxes, then you can expect to pay $12,025 more than you were paying before.

People opposed to the tax find the advertising of “only $133” “unconscionable.” I wouldn’t go that far.

There is logic to this means of figuring out the most typical taxpayers and the hit on their wallets. The message reduced to a sound bite or advertising pitch is exaggerated is all, and that’s problem enough.

My point here is that hundreds of dollars more in taxes starts to become real money, which makes sense with a billion-dollar tax increase to fund the reforms in education.

So arguments about Colorado’s pace of recovery as reasons not to add to taxation remain legitimate. I understand that.

I just no longer agree that Colorado cannot afford to invest better in our schools. I think it’s time to put serious reforms into place now — for the sake of tomorrow’s healthier economy and a lot of other quality-of-life benefits that come with better education.

We can’t really holler about China and others doing a better job of education (although that’s a faulty argument) and fail to be serious about improving our system.

By nearly every measure, Colorado is on the path to economic recovery. We can afford to make prudent investments, and I think this is one.

I believe Amendment 66 will improve our system, and I believe the hundreds of dollars my household will add to our tax bill are worth it even though our family no longer has children in Eagle County Schools.

This is an investment in the future, trite as that may sound to some readers. While not perfect, I believe it’s more than good enough.

Just don’t irritate me with that ridiculous “$133” promise. My bill would be multiples of that, and that is real money.

So, let’s be straight up about the real question.

Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@vaildaily.com and 970-748-2920.


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The VailDaily Updated Oct 17, 2013 10:30PM Published Oct 17, 2013 03:15PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.