Proponents of Amendment 66 had everything they claimed they didn’t have two years ago when Proposition 103 was soundly defeated. This time, they had a detailed reform package. They had a massive bankroll. They had a long list of endorsements. They had Governor Hickenlooper. So what went wrong? How did Coloradans reject the amendment by a 2:1 margin?
The simple answer is that proponents of the $1 billion tax hike were out of touch with the electorate.
With a loss this big, not only did a vast majority of Republican and Unaffiliated voters go against it, but also some Democrats. Even without a well-funded opposition, Coloradans did not buy the slick advertisements that saturated the airwaves. Regardless of the promise that all the money would go straight into classrooms, voters knew not to believe everything they saw on TV. They also knew that this measure would hurt small businesses and families at a time when the economy is still struggling.
It is inarguable that there has been a backlash to the state legislature’s move to the far left. Polling data first showed it, and then the recall elections confirmed it. While Coloradans gave Democrats control in the 2012 election, they are obviously not thrilled with the direction the liberal legislature has taken the state during the last year. When the failed Obamacare rollout occurred in the last few weeks, concerns about the inefficiencies of government only escalated.
Then there was the late out-of-state money that came from Mayor Bloomberg and Bill and Melinda Gates in support of Amendment 66. The $2 million it brought in was clearly not worth the negative attention it garnered. This money was contributed because Amendment 66 was supposed to serve as the model for reforms in other states (not so much anymore). Regardless, it shouldn’t be surprising when there is a backlash against out-of-staters trying to raise our taxes here in Colorado.
During his “Yes on 66” concession speech, Governor Hickenlooper called the defeat a “down payment” for similar reform in the future. While SB-213 gives proponents until 2017 to pass the tax hike, spending $10 million to lose by 30 points sounds like an extremely ineffective “down payment.”
The smart thing would be to go back and pass the bi-partisan supported reforms that were held hostage to the tax hike during the debate on SB-213. After Amendment 66 was defeated, the House Republicans released their education agenda for 2014. These agenda items include: reforming count day, providing more funding for charter schools and English language learners, and increasing transparency in spending.
There is no doubt that these reforms would be a great start. There are also several other reforms that Republicans should embrace if they want to be leaders on education reform. They should call for a bottom up approach to funding in order to ensure that enough money actually gets to the classrooms. They should push for targeted tax credits for low income students in failing schools. And they should reintroduce a parent trigger law in order to give parents more of a say in their children’s education.
While at this point it is unclear exactly what education reform in Colorado will look like in the upcoming years, the message from the voters on Amendment 66 was crystal clear. They want effective reforms before any talk of additional revenue.
Michael Fields is a 6th grade teacher at a charter school in Aurora, and a Republican candidate for Colorado House District 37