Prop 103 is ‘the right thing,’ advocate says
EDWARDS, Colorado – Colorado needs to do the right thing, and a statewide tax increase for schools is it, said an advocate in town Monday to campaign for it.
“There is never a bad time to do the right thing,” said Carol Hedges, fiscal project director with the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonprofit that Hedges says “works on behalf of economic justice for all Coloradans.”
Proposition 103 expires after five years, if voters approve it in this election. That makes it a Band-Aid, not the solution to the state’s education funding problems, Hedges said.
If it doesn’t pass, Colorado will bleed another $250 million to $300 million – another $200 per student, she said.
“Is there any kid or any school in Colorado that would be better off if we cut another $200 million from education?” Hedges asked.
Hedges called Proposition 103 the “pass-this-so-we-don’t-suck-any-worse-than-we-already-do” proposal.
“We must avoid the mindset that we can have reform without resources,” she said.
“This is not The Powers That Be promoting this,” Hedges said. “This is a group of people who’ve said that enough is enough, and we cannot endure more of these cuts.”
Proposition 103 would increase the state income tax and sales tax for five years, while state lawmakers look for a permanent funding solution. Education consumes half the state’s budget and it was cut along with everything else the state funds.
Colorado’s taxes are low compared to most of the country, Hedges said.
“We don’t pay much in taxes and that’s why we don’t spend much on education. It’s not rocket science,” she said.
Proposition 103’s ballot language would guarantee 2012-level funding, and any additional money the measure would raise would go to education, Hedges said.
Since it’s a statewide tax increase it needs statewide voter approval, under Colorado’s TABOR Amendment. No other state does that, Hedges said.
“In Colorado we believe in direct democracy,” Hedges said. “That’s why we do this a lot, talk about public finance.”
The Colorado state Legislature cut income taxes in 1999 and 2000, Hedges said. Meanwhile, Colorado voters passed two measures aimed at solidifying education funding – Amendment 23 and Referendum C.
When the recession pushed Colorado’s finances over a cliff, state lawmakers began using Amendment 23 language to find ways to keep from funding schools, Hedges said.
“When our personal income drops, so does the revenue available to the state,” Hedges said. “Our economy is not working. We’ve experienced back-to-back recessions.”
That has combined to force schools to ask for more money, Hedges said.
“Do we raise enough money to pay for the services people have come to expect? No!” Hedges told the group gathered at E-Town in the Edwards Riverwalk.
Schools have made cuts, and will again if voters don’t approve proposed tax increases, Hedges said.
“We could be put on a diet, but we’re starting out underweight,” Hedges said.
Proposition 103 is a reasonable and incremental next step, Hedges said.
“We’ll all be better off if the least among us is taken care of. There was a time when people came together in bad times. I’m proud that in Colorado we’re creating an opportunity for people to do that,” Hedges said.
The Eagle County school district is one of many across Colorado asking voters for more money in this November’s election. Locally, the Eagle County school district has shed $9 million and 100 jobs stemming from state funding cuts.
Hedges encouraged local voters to approve both the state and local proposals, as did local school board member Jeannie McQueeney.
“There are school districts in this state that cannot take care of their own,” McQueeney said.
Some of Colorado’s poorer school districts could increase their property tax rate 30 percent and raise only $200,000, Hedges said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or email@example.com.