Lawmaker pushing for vote on tax for schools

Sen. Rollie Heath isn’t giving up the fight.

Still steaming over cuts of millions of dollars in education spending approved by the Legislature this year, the Boulder Democrat wants Coloradans to agree to a five-year increase in taxes to help pay for public schools and higher education.

That’s why he’s going ahead with an effort to put a measure on the ballot this fall for raising taxes.

In kicking off his petition-signing drive in Denver on Monday, Heath said a tax hike is needed now more than ever because of the $182 million in budget cuts for K–12 education, and the $36 million in cuts for the state’s colleges and universities that the Legislature approved for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

“I don’t separate education with jobs and the economy,” Heath said. “Right now, we’re among the lowest in states in per-capita funding of education, and we can’t recruit businesses and continue to be a great state without a quality education system. Doing nothing in the face of these cuts is not an option.”

Heath was one of a handful of lawmakers who consistently voted against those cuts.

Under Heath’s plan, income tax rates for tax years 2012 to 2017 would go from 4.63 percent to 5 percent, while state sales taxes would increase from 2.9 percent to 3 percent.

If approved by voters in November, it would raise about $530 million a year for five years, or $2.6 billion overall, all of which would go to K–12 and higher education, Heath said.

Republicans immediately criticized Heath’s idea, repeating Gov. John Hickenlooper’s statement earlier this year that Coloradans have no appetite to raise taxes, particularly in a bad economy.

“Colorado has a revenue problem due to one simple fact: Families and businesses are having a revenue problem,” said Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, R-Littleton. “This Democrat (sic) proposal to raise taxes will only hinder economic recovery and put added financial stress on already struggling families. The Senate Republican caucus stands in staunch opposition to this measure.”

The left-leaning Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, which is working with Heath, says the change would amount to a few cents a day in additional taxes. The institute estimates that for a household with an annual income of $55,700, the measure would mean $163 more a year in taxes, or less than 45 cents a day.

Heath said he expects to have little trouble getting the minimum 85,000 signatures needed by Aug. 1 to make the fall ballot.


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