DENVER – Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a public education finance bill Tuesday that can’t be implemented without voter approval of a $1.1 billion tax increase. He plans to pitch the statewide tax hike as a critical investment in Colorado’s students and schools.
“This bill really positions Colorado to be the national leader in terms of school reform and school effectiveness,” said Hickenlooper. “It allows us to look at being number one in the country in creating a financial system that really threads reform… that delivers results.”
Opponents argue the proposal is a union-backed measure designed to boost salaries and benefits for teachers and administrators. It’s not the time to raise taxes, they say, when the state has not rebounded from the recession.
“It’s a billion-dollar tax increase for virtually no reform for our education system,” said Dick Wadhams, political strategist and former state GOP chair. “It’s the CEA union as usual behind this.”
The tax hike would fund schools with high enrollment of at-risk students, defined as children from low income families. The money would be used for special education, full-day kindergarten, half-day preschool for at-risk children of low income families, and language instruction for students who are not fluent in English.
“The discussion has now moved from the legislature to a group of state leaders and stakeholders who will decide very soon which citizen’s initiative, if any, to put in front of the voters this November,” said Sen. Mike Johnston (D-Denver).
If voters approve the ballot measure in November, Johnston said it will be “the first increase in per pupil funding in five years… thanks in great part to the advocacy of Great Education Colorado and public education supporters.”
Johnston sent a blast e-mail encouraging constituents to contact CEA union’s Great Education Colorado, which has been promoting the measure.
During the bill signing Tuesday, Hickenlooper vowed to campaign for the passage of the ballot initiative. The idea for the tax increase emerged last year during the governor’s “To Be Determined” (TBD) tour to prioritize state projects.
“They’re using this as a political tool – it’s a pork barrel bill to raise taxes,” declared Sen. Kent Lambert (R-Colorado). “There is no guarantee the money will go to education because it will go to the state general fund.”
Lambert said there was adequate money for K-12 education in the general fund this year, but Democrat legislators chose to spend the money on other projects.
Last year, the CEA successfully campaigned across the state to pass $1 billion for public education through a combination of mill levy and tax increases.
Gregory Golyansky, head of Colorado Union of Taxpayers, predicted voters will reject the latest $1.1 billion tax measure in November just as they voted down Proposition 103 pushed by Sen. Rollie Heath (D-Boulder) last year.
“I don’t think there’s a chance in hell this thing will pass,” Golyansky said. “It’s going to go down in flames big time.”
Wadhams said that the governor is revealing his support for a liberal agenda by signing the proposed tax hike, far-reaching gun-control bills, and a controversial same-day voter registration bill into law.
“These bills are continually unraveling his image as a fiscal conservative,” declared Wadham. “He has been a very destructive governor.”