DENVER – Coloradans soundly rejected Amendment 66, a $1 billion income tax hike for public education, Tuesday. Despite the overwhelming 66 – 34 percent defeat, Gov. John Hickenlooper vowed to find a new funding mechanism to enable Colorado to become the K-12 education reform model for the nation.
“We talked to people all over the state,” said Hickenlooper, referring to his TBD (To Be Determined) tour that promoted higher funding for public schools and other projects. “Pretty much everyone approved and supported the initiatives for reform.”
Hickenlooper sounded stunned by the defeat of Amendment 66 in nearly every county. Perhaps more shocking was how narrowly left-leaning Boulder and Denver counties passed the initiative, with the controversial proposal eking through by a 52 – 48 percent margin.
Amendment 66 would have funded Senate Bill 213, a public education measure, sponsored by Sen. Michael Johnston (D-Denver) and passed by the Democrat-controlled legislature this year. No Republican lawmaker voted for it.
This was the first of five opportunities to fund SB 213 programs, but Hickenlooper hedged when asked whether he’d campaign for another tax hike initiative next year.
“We have to go talk to people first. I think what we need to hear – and listen very carefully – is why people said no,” declared Hickenlooper.
Amendment 66 wasn’t defeated because voters didn’t like the public education reform promises of half-day preschool, full-day kindergarten, longer school terms or smaller classes explained the governor. People embraced those concepts but “the price tag was too high,” he said.
Critics argued those goals weren’t stated in the bill which would have allowed school districts to distribute the money to schools for designated projects. Hickenlooper admitted that the funds could be diverted to pay PERA benefits for teachers and administrators.
“It’s devastating,” declared Kerrie Dallman, president of Colorado Education Association (CEA) union, who added that it’s difficult to pass a tax because of TABOR (Taxpayers Bill of Rights).
“This is the first round. We’ll be back,” vowed Dallman.
At the Colorado Commits to Kids election watch party, Johnston blamed the defeat on the federal government scandals – from the faulty ObamaCare launch to the government shutdown.
“The individual voters we thought we had said they weren’t sure they could trust the government,” said Johnston. “We caught people at a bad moment.”
Hickenlooper claimed Tuesday that most of the business community supported Amendment 66, but that wasn’t quite factual. Among the numerous associations opposing initiative was Colorado Concern, a coalition of state business and education leaders.
Colorado Concern opposed the nearly $1 billion-a-year income tax hike because the teachers union, Colorado Education Association (CEA), intends to file a lawsuit after the election to strip teacher accountability standards from education reforms enacted in 2010 under Senate Bill 191.
“(It) felt disingenuous at best,” said Colorado Concern’s statement. “Ensuring that the decision to litigate occurred after the election lacked the transparency we believe voters deserve.”
The Amendment 66 campaign, “Colorado Commits to Kids,” was fueled with $10.3 million, about half from unions and $2 million from billionaires former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates.
“This was not defeated by an oppositional campaign – there really was no campaign against it,” political analyst Floyd Ciruli told TV 9.
“It was the voters on their own saying that they don’t trust this. The tax is too high,” he said. “We want to see (education) reform before we see more money put into it.”
“What part of ‘no’ can be missed at this point?” asked Ciruli.
Tuesday’s election results, he said, were déjà vu of 2011 when voters rejected Proposition 103, a combined sales and income tax increase for schools.
“What really blows my mind is $10 million” for the campaign to pass Amendment 66, said Jon Caldara, president of Independence Institute.
“That’s enough money to give 2,000 kids scholarships to better schools,” said Caldara. “If they cared about education maybe they would spend their money doing that instead of trying to con working families out of their money.”