DENVER – The Colorado Education Association (CEA) 2012 campaign strategy playbook is a must read. A plan to increase taxes across the state won voter approval for $1.1 billion in school bonds and mill levy hikes, and the union’s backing helped Democrats score majorities in the state House and Senate.
Now, the stage is set to pass a flurry of education spending bills to generate up to $2.75 billion when the legislature convenes on January 9.
That effort will be followed by ballot initiatives for $1 billion in new tax hikes in November 2013, and a potential repeal of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR), the Gallagher Amendment and Amendment 23 in 2014.
State Senators Rollie Heath (D-Boulder) and Mike Johnston (D-Denver) told the union’s Technical Advisory Committee that they plan to pass a package through the legislature by March 17.
“Our priority is to move this in the session early,” said Johnston according to EdNewsColorado. “…so we have time to build a statewide coalition.”
The $1 billion tax increase will be placed on the November ballot by petition – sidestepping the legislative process, which would require approval from two-thirds of the House and the Senate.
The funding proposals sound like déjà vu of 2011 when Heath pushed Proposition 103, a massive $2.9 billion sales and income tax hike over a 5-year period for public schools. Colorado voters rejected the ballot initiative.
Like Heath and Johnston, the union – fresh off of electoral victories in November – believes the timing is right.
The public relations spin began last year when organizations jumped on the CEA bandwagon to support local school district funding increases, “2013: Year of the Student Project” was established with the support of 110 organizations, and Governor John Hickenlooper’s “TBD” (To Be Determined) initiative launched a statewide tour.
Because of TBD’s advocacy for increased spending on education, Heath predicted the governor will sign into law a school finance bill passed by the legislature in 2013. Hickenlooper has tiptoed around the public education funding debate and potential tax hikes.
The governor’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) touted the TBD initiative in its annual report, “Colorado Blueprint: A bottom-up approach to economic development.”
Under the goal to “explore common values that unite Coloradans and build consensus on what the future of CO will look like,” the OEDIT noted a measurable achievement “Hired third party independent consultant who convened initial TBD meetings; 70 (meetings) with more than 1,500 participants throughout Colorado.”
The TBD program was implemented by three individuals: Chris Adams and Brenda Morrison of Engaged Public and Paul Alexander of the Institute of the Common Good at Regis University.
Morrison hails from a family of political activists – her mother is former Colorado Insurance Commissioner and state Rep. Marcy Morrison, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of TABOR, and her sister Liane Morrison is Executive Director of Great Education Colorado.
Great Education Colorado sent email blasts encouraging participation in TBD, and feedback about the preliminary survey results published in November. The respondents favor a higher state income tax rate, half-day preschool for at-risk children and full-day kindergarten – all legislation being proposed in this session.
In November, the CEA spearheaded the defeat of Republicans in key races – infusing hundreds of thousands of dollars into the state Democratic Party, its candidate campaigns, and small donor, independent expenditure and 527 committees.
Not surprisingly, much of money spent to attack Republican candidates and bolster Democrats came from unions and 527s such as Coalition for Colorado’s Future, the Colorado Accountable Government Alliance and the Community Information Project.
Consider the House District 3 race between Democrat state Rep. Daniel Kagan and Republican candidate businessman Brian Watson. When Watson had raised nearly twice the money as Kagan, the Colorado Accountable Alliance Independent Expenditure Committee attacked Watson with what many believed were false and misleading attacks.
The committee, registered by Julie Wells, accused Watson of “smearing a family of Holocaust survivors” and cited a Colorado Observer story published October 2. The mailer targeted the highly populated Jewish HD3 voters, but in fact, the article was not anti-Semitic and Watson wasn’t quoted, much less even interviewed for the story.
EdNewsColorado, an online publication, reported hundreds of thousands of dollars filtered through union-affiliated political committees to Democrat legislative candidates and several school districts promoting higher funding through taxes, bonds and initiatives.
The committees contributed directly to candidate and political committees. For example, the Public Education Committee, a small donor committee, raised more than $600,000 that was divvied to Democrat candidates and independent expenditure committees such as the Community Information Project, which spent more than $1.3 million to pummel Republicans and promote Democrats. Described as the CEA’s “main political arm,” it contributed at least $50,000 to Save Jeffco Schools, a 527 committee to produce mailers to “educate” voters about candidates and the county’s school district request for voters to approve a $99 million bond and mill override to generate $39 million.
The effort paid off – as voters backed the school funding and identified pro-union Democrat legislative candidates.
The CEA and aligned committees successfully gained voter approval in November for more than $1.1 billion in a mix of bonds, mill levy increases and one tax hike to fund public schools in 29 school districts. The largest package was delivered in Denver where voters sanctioned a $466 million bond, a mill levy override for a $49 million operating expenses, and suspended TABOR.