DENVER – Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper addressed a group of Initiative 22 supporters at a campaign kick-off at Green Mountain High School on Thursday, telling supporters of the billion dollar tax increase in a rally-style speech that there was “no better… economic development we could do” and that the proposed initiative was a “model for the rest of the U.S.”
The group backing the November ballot initiative, Colorado Commits for Kids, was busy handing out placards to attendees, including teachers, administrators, and the head of the Colorado Education Association, Kerrie Dallman, whose group donated $250,000 to the effort in July.
Initiative 22 would fund SB 213, a bill that changes the formula for public school financing, funding for at-risk and English Language Learner students, and requires the Department of Education to submit reports analyzing student growth every four years.
But many Coloradans are concerned that the state cannot afford a massive tax increase as Colorado struggles to leave unemployment behind.
When asked whether Colorado voters were ready for a $1 billion tax increase in the wake of a struggling economy and after a similar measure, Prop 103, failed in 2011 by a nearly 2 to 1 margin, Hickenlooper told the Observer that this proposal is different.
“Prop 103 was a request for money without any specifics… this bill has more specifics than any tax increase I’ve ever seen in the country, every dollar is spelled out where it’s gonna go,” said Hickenlooper.
“If you look at it and measure it, it puts you in a place that’s very competitive with other public school systems in this country,” Hickenlooper added.
Opponents were also in attendance at the event, with a table set up across the street from the event loaded with $250 worth of school supplies courtesy of the bipartisan group Coloradans for Real Education Reform. The school supplies represented what the median Colorado family could purchase if the tax increase doesn’t pass, based on the median Colorado family income of $69,110.
The cost to Colorado families is a main sticking point among opponents from both sides of the aisle.
Former State Sen. Bob Hagedorn, a Democrat and one of the chief spokesmen for CRER, said he was concerned over the initiative’s, “potential impacts on Colorado small businesses in an economy that is struggling to recover, and on working families and retired persons of modest incomes.”
“The legislature missed an opportunity to expand school choice opportunities for parents and their children,” added Hagedorn.
Initiative 22 increases the state income tax rate by 8 percent on income less than $75,000, and by 27 percent on income over $75,000.
At least one recent poll showed significant opposition to the idea. But opponents aren’t taking anything for granted.
“Anything with enough money has a chance of passing. If the governor jumps out of airplanes, it’s certainly going to help. But I don’t see the same coalition that it takes to pass a statewide tax initiative,” said the Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara. “You need to have the business community solidly on your side, and a 27 percent tax increase for all small businesses – that’s not going to happen.”