Vail Daily column: Setting the record straight on Amendment 66

Sen. Mike Johnston and Rep. Millie Hamner

It was with great concern that we recently read a litany of falsehoods from the Eagle County Republican Party published in these pages regarding Amendment 66, the school finance ballot issue. Eagle County deserves to vote on the facts, not fiction.

In the interest of setting the record straight, here are five things you should know about Amendment 66:

This is not a bailout of the public pension system. As the Vail Daily editor had to point out at the bottom of the Republican Party’s commentary, this allegation is completely false. Amendment 66 would constitutionally bar the state from using these funds to bail out PERA. In fact, the conservative Grand Junction Daily Sentinel labeled the PERA argument “a red herring.”

Charter schools will see big wins under Amendment 66. Charter schools have long fought for facilities funding and the sharing of local property tax revenues. Both would come to fruition under Amendment 66, which is why conservative charter advocacy groups like the Walton Family Foundation have supported Amendment 66.

A flat tax is actually a recent development. Until the late 1980s, Colorado had a highly progressive income tax with a top rate of 10 percent, so we were surprised to see an allegation that Colorado has always had a flat tax. History aside, the tax rate is less important than what it will mean for the median household (another $133 per year) and for our education system (increased student achievement).

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Amendment 66 is designed to ensure student achievement. Amendment 66 requires an ongoing study to gauge the outcomes of the increased investments. If the investments produce returns, they will continue to be funded. If not, the Legislature can shift the funding to more productive education programs or end the funding altogether.

The taxes are not written into stone. Amendment 66 preserves the right of the Legislature to lower the taxes if they produce more revenue than is necessary (or if the revenue doesn’t produce the desired results). It’s happened before — since 1986, Colorado has lowered the tax rate three times, from 8 percent to its current 4.63 percent.

We recognize that a tax increase has an impact on Colorado’s economy, and we don’t make the request lightly. But here’s what would really hurt our economy: continuing to cut K-12 education so our students don’t have a real shot at opportunity when they graduate.

And this really gets to the fundamental question: What kind of state do we want to leave for our children?

Thirty years ago, we paid 10 percent of our income to the state to help pay for education. Because of what our parents and grandparents put in, we got a pretty good education.

Today, we only pay 8 percent of our income to the state, and we’ve cut education funding by $1 billion. Are we really prepared to say we should give our children less than what our families gave us?

We’ve talked to a lot of parents, business owners and educators, and no one has been willing to answer that question affirmatively. Instead, they’ve told us they support Amendment 66, a commonsense, accountable and transparent opportunity to commit to our kids.

Mike Johnston, a Vail native, represents northeast Denver in the state Senate. Millie Hamner lives in Dillon and represents Summit, Lake, Pitkin, Gunnison and Delta counties in the state House of Representatives.

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