Tax hike plan for schools graded poorly by candidates

Six of the seven candidates for District 51 School Board seats this fall agree they are not in favor of Amendment 66.

The seventh candidate, District C’s Lonnie White, did not respond to calls for comment for this article.

Amendment 66 is the ballot initiative prompted by Senate Bill 213, which passed in the Colorado Legislature this spring. The new law revamps Colorado’s school district funding model.

However, the changes outlined in the law cannot take effect unless Amendment 66 passes.

The amendment asks voters if the state can increase the income tax rate from 4.63 percent for every income bracket to 5 percent for people making $75,000 or less and 5.9 percent for people making more than $75,000. That is expected to raise $950.1 million in added income tax revenue in the state’s 2014-15 fiscal year if the amendment passes.

The amendment would not impact district funding until the 2015-16 school year, but the Colorado Department of Education estimated Mesa County Valley 51 and Plateau Valley 50 school districts would get an additional $9.1 million and $227,067, respectively, during the 2013-14 school year if the amendment took effect immediately. The De Beque School District would see an anticipated decline of $43,519 through Amendment 66, according to the department of education. Those amounts do not include extra funding that would come from other provisions in Senate Bill 213.

Estimates of how much each county or district will pay in income tax if Amendment 66 passes are hard to find outside of pro- and anti-66 campaigns, according to District 51 lobbyist Amy Attwood. She said scenarios she has seen could mean District 51 taxpayers pay $1 million-plus more or less in income tax than the district gets back from the new funding formula.

The Education Policy Center, run by Denver-based think tank Independence Institute, used 2012 tax reports to estimate Mesa County taxpayers would pay $11,511,257 more in income tax under Amendment 66 rates.

Uncertainty about how much local taxpayers will get back from their investment concerns many of the board candidates, along with another alteration to the state Constitution and the language of the amendment.

School Board President and District E candidate Greg Mikolai said he first saw an estimate that the district would get about $5 million less than local taxpayers invested through Amendment 66 changes, but a second updated number showed the district coming out $2 to $3 million ahead because of some changes in at-risk student calculations in the formula. Even with the change, he said he cannot support the amendment.

“If something happens with our at-risk population or they take that out, we’re down $2.5 million,” he said, adding he’s uncomfortable with some “set-asides” in Senate Bill 213.

“I’m not a fan of legislating through ballot initiatives,” he said. “It creates more problems in the long run than it solves.”

Fellow District E candidate John Sluder said he also is uncomfortable with some of the wording in Senate Bill 213. He added he does not believe now is the right time to raise taxes on individuals, “especially when so many are struggling.”

“What stands out to me is the funding formula continues to not be favorable to District 51. We don’t start seeing (more money) until 2015-16, so it’s a long way out,” Sluder said.

In District D, candidate Mike Lowenstein said he doesn’t know much about the amendment but hasn’t liked the things he has learned about it.

“It’s not a very good deal for us,” he said.

Tom Parrish, also in District D, said other constitutional amendments that were supposed to help education funding, including Amendment 23 and the Gallagher Amendment, haven’t had the best results, so he would rather look for a local funding solution at some point than rely on more constitutional changes.

“There are so many things that aren’t right about (66),” he said. “I would rather clear the deck than keep bolting problems onto (the Constitution).”

District C candidate John Williams said he would like to support more funding for education, but not through this method.

“It’s flawed the way the bill is written. I particularly don’t like amending the Constitution of the state of Colorado again,” he said.

Pat Kanda, also in District C, said he doesn’t like that Amendment 66 would ask for tax money from individuals and not businesses.

“I also don’t think more taxes, more money, is really the solution to some of the ills public education has right now,” Kanda said. “If we’re going to amend the Constitution, maybe we should look at amending the Constitution to use a portion of lottery funds to go toward education.”



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