Ballot overload tests school voters

The announcement this week from Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s office that a statewide proposal to raise taxes to benefit schools will be on this November’s ballot comes as no great surprise.

After all, proponents had gathered nearly double the number of petition signatures they needed. And the effort, led by Boulder Democratic state Sen. Rollie Heath, was well-organized.

But the announcement is troubling, nonetheless, because it means voters in the Grand Valley will be casting their ballots on two tax proposals aimed at boosting school revenue.

Both measures aren’t likely to win voter approval in what has historically been tight-fisted Mesa County, especially in the midst of a recession.

The statewide measure, labeled Proposition 103, would raise both the state sales tax and state rates for personal and corporate income taxes to increase funding about $536 million a year for schools. Most of the money would go to K-12 education, but some would also go to colleges and universities.

The competing measure, which affects only School District 51, asks voters in this community to override the TABOR Amendment restrictions on new taxes and raise the District 51 mill levy by seven mills.

That increase — resulting in roughly $55 more property taxes for every $100,000 of a home’s value — would raise an estimated $12 million a year for the local school district. It would allow the district to re-establish up to 80 teaching positions that have been cut in the past few years, and add back school days to the shortened school year.

The statewide measure would sunset in five years. The District 51 proposal would last six years.

We recognize there is a statewide problem with school funding — as well as many other state needs — that will eventually have to be addressed.

However, the big difference between the two ballot measures is in the money that will flow directly to local schools.

The bulk of the money raised if Proposition 103 passes will be added to the money in the state school fund.

The funding formula for that money places School District 51 near the bottom of the state’s 178 school districts in the amount of per-pupil money it receives from the state general fund. As a result, local taxpayers, through their state-paid sales and income taxes, will be helping to pay for other school districts with higher per-pupil funding.

Under the District 51 ballot measure, in contrast, every bit of the money raised by increasing taxes would stay in this community for our local schools.

While some local voters may cast ballots in support of both measures, most, we suspect, will be extremely cautious about voting in favor of any tax increase. Those who definitely want to assist the local schools would do well to look first at the District 51 ballot measure.


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