DENVER – Popular columnist and talk radio host Mike Rosen gave a “thumbs down” to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s $1 billion state income tax designed to increase state spending on education. Rosen joined the opposition in declaring there is no reform – just more taxation.
If voters pass the $1 billion tax increase, the governor said it will set a public education and funding standard for other states to follow. Initiative 22, which would fund K-12 education reforms in Senate Bill 213 signed into law by Hickenlooper, requires 86,105 valid petition signatures by Aug. 5 to be placed on the November ballot.
“God, you know… this bill has the most comprehensive set of education reforms ever to make Colorado the number one state,” Hickenlooper said Thursday on the Mike Rosen Show on 850-KOA radio.
“I’m going to vote no,” said Rosen after listening to the governor’s tax pitch.
Rosen voiced his opposition to the tax hike because it will increase mandated funding for public schools from 40 percent to 43 percent of the state budget. He objected to mandates that would further impede the legislature’s ability to prioritize the state’s budget to fund projects such as transportation infrastructure.
Initiative 22 proposes a two-tier income tax rate that would eliminate the state’s flat tax of 4.63 percent. The tax rate would increase from 4.63 percent to 5 percent on income of $75,000 or less; and climb from 4.63 percent to 5.9 percent for income over $75,000.
Hickenlooper claimed it’s a minimal tax increase of 1.3 percent, but Rosen did the math and declared it would be a 27.4 percent increase on all income over $75,000.
As an example, Rosen said, it would add roughly $200,000 on top of $600,000 in state income taxes paid by someone like Rockies First Baseman Todd Helton, who reportedly earned $17.8 million in 2010.
“That’s a steep increase. There’s no question,” conceded Hickenlooper.
The governor said voters will have to decide whether to back the tax for the good of reform under SB 213, which he said would subsidize poor urban and rural schools. The main beneficiary may be Denver’s public schools.
“This focused on making sure that each classroom in that bottom 20 percent gets more attention and more support, and hopefully that will improve the entire performance of the classroom,” said Hickenlooper.
Rosen questioned the idea that SB 213 would reform public education, and noted the bill does not address the problems of tenure and the state’s growing burden to fund retiree benefits and pensions under the state’s Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA). He estimated that $200 million of the $1 billion tax increase will go to PERA instead of classrooms.
“It is not fundamental reform because it does not disturb the system,” said Rosen.
“You may say it’s not fundamentally disruptive,” retorted Hickenlooper. “But it’s more disruptive than any state in the history of the United States in dramatically changing the way we educate our kids.”
The governor said the tax increase for SB 213 will help charter schools and public schools which will be able to add preschool classes and all-day kindergarten. It will also allow schools to extend classroom time with longer days and school terms.
But, others disagree with the spin by Hickenlooper and the Colorado Commits to Kids campaign, funded largely by the CEA teachers’ union.
“The legislation, SB 213, discriminates against the most innovative schools in the state, charter schools,” said Colorado Springs City Council President and former Sen. Keith King, a board member of The Colorado League of Charter Schools.
Under the bill, he said, charter schools would receive approximately $1,000 less per pupil funding than other students in the same school district. King said the charter schools league had tried to work out an equitable funding solution with the bill’s sponsor state Sen. Michael Johnston (D-Denver).
“(Johnston) was offered several opportunities and ideas to fix the problem and rejected them because the coalition that put the bill together refused to involve charter schools in the process,” said King.
The Douglas County School Board stated its opposition to the bill and $1 billion tax hike in a resolution adopted in May. The board concluded that SB 213 is “profoundly contrary to the best interests” of Douglas County students and taxpayers.
“For every additional dollar of taxes the residents of this county would pay, we would get back maybe 50 cents,” said school board President John Carson.