Sen. Rollie Heath takes job-killing tax hike to voters

To know Sen. Rollie Heath, the godfather of the quixotic sales-and-income-tax hike that now appears to be headed for the ballot this November, is to know an earnest, purposeful and driven man.

Earlier this week, Heath announced he had turned in more than the requisite number of signatures to get his tax measure on the ballot this fall.

Unfortunately for all of us who happen to like the fact that Colorado is a comparatively low tax state, Heath, the 60-something state senator from Boulder who has as much glide in his stride as any 30-something you’ll find, is putting all that drive and purpose to work these days trying to return Colorado to its 1990-levels of state taxation. That’s a curious endeavor since in 1990, as now, Colorado was mired in recession.

Heath, for his part, isn’t your average Statehouse pol. He’s more advocate than climber, more college professor than tub-thumping speechmaker.

Rollie’s the kind of guy who tears up when talking about his childhood, his business career or his love of Colorado and country.  It can be occasionally difficult to tell which liberal leaders are actually, at core, America-loving, flag-waving patriots. Rollie Heath is for sure.

Heath is relatively new to the Colorado Senate, but not to Colorado politics — not by a long shot.

Heath’s wife, Josie, was a cornerstone of the Democratic Party in this state for years. She was a Boulder County commissioner and the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in 1990. In 1992, she lost a second bid for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in a race featuring a pair of Colorado iconoclasts in the persons of former Gov. Dick Lamm and (the ultimately victorious) Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

Heath himself knows something about statewide electoral contests. He drew the ignominious short straw of running against then-Gov. Bill Owens at a time the incumbent governor was wildly popular.

Rollie never stopped the smiles or sunshine in his race against the Owens juggernaut, something for which he still receives praise.

Heath, it turns out, is not afraid of a tough fight, or tilting at windmills, when it suits his very liberal conscience.

His Amendment 25 is a ballot initiative that would raise income taxes from 4.63 to 5 percent and boost statewide sales taxes, too, both in the name of increasing statewide funding for public schools.

Since Referendum C in 2005, this is the fifth such nakedly politicized effort to “save our schools.”

First, it was Ref C., which in the end boosted school funding by billions over 5 years, while permanently repealing TABOR’s ratchet effect. Then it was Gov. Bill Ritter’s mill-levy freeze, which cleverly (or sinisterly, depending on your biases) boosted property taxes and injected fresh cash to school coffers. Next came the so-called “dirty dozen” business tax increases that Colorado’s business leaders abhored, Rollie Heath sponsored and Bill Ritter signed. Finally, there was the repeal of Colorado’s landmark 6 percent spending limit,  which will have the effect of jerking money away from roads and colleges and feeding it to K-12 for many years to come.

And now it is Heath’s Amendment 25, which would suck $3 billion from the state’s recession-weary economy with a temporary five-year tax increase (as if these things are ever temporary).

To be sure, public schools have experienced a real pinch in the last two years. But who hasn’t?  And Amendment 25 isn’t about leveraging shortfalls to achieve needed reforms in our schools. In fact, the opposite is true. It’s about back-filling budget cuts, as if public education should be immune from any talk of efficiency or reform after more than a decade of huge, year-over-year funding increases.

But the real folly in Heath’s plan is the dire effect it would have on the economy. A recent economic study projected that Amendment 25 would result in 119,000 lost jobs, making it less “bitter pill” and more “hemlock” for an economy already teetering on the edge of double dip.

As voters discover these devastating impacts, Sen. Heath is once more likely to run into a brick wall of public opposition. That may not stop the smiling, sunny Boulder senator from pressing on with his latest cause, but it will almost certainly ensure the initiative’s demise when the votes get counted this November.

Josh Penry is a former Colorado Senate Minority leader and a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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