If Amendment 66 passes, rank Colorado among most liberal states
The results of the statewide election on Amendment 66, the $1 billion income tax increase to raise revenue for schools, will provide a clear answer to the question: Has Colorado become a reliably liberal and Democratic state?
Are we still a swing state or have the tectonic plates of Colorado politics irretrievably shifted leftward beneath our feet?
When the polls close Tuesday and votes cast on Amendment 66 are tallied, the nation will have a very clear answer to that question.
The statewide education tax increase is a good barometer of the essential political character of Colorado for a number of reasons.
In the first place, Amendment 66 is not a half-a-loaf kind of big-government proposal. It is big, bold, audacious liberalism in plain daylight, the kind of thing that no state calling itself moderate or centrist (much less fiscally conservative) would ever support.
If this thing passes, the era of TABOR-style restraint is over — that’s right, TABOR will be, for all intents and purposes, dead — and the era of California-style tax and spend policy will be here.
Speaking of California, Amendment 66 is so far-reaching that it targets a segment of the Colorado population far broader than even a hefty tax hike Californians adopted in 2012. That tax hike, as draconian as it was, increased taxes only on millionaires.
But Amendment 66 amounts to so much more than the Golden State’s “soak the rich” scheme that few wage earners in Colorado will be spared higher taxes under it.
On the Western Slope, and all across the state for that matter, the timing couldn’t be worse. Colorado is stuck in a persistent jobs slump. As The Daily Sentinel reported recently, many who are blessed enough to have work in points west of the Continental Divide are scarcely making enough to live.
Lynn Bartels, The Denver Post’s political reporter extraordinaire, wrote an interesting piece a week or so back, comparing Amendment 66 to Referendum C, a tax proposal approved back in 2005 that allowed the state of Colorado to retain surplus tax revenue it had collected during a period of economic growth.
“A sweeping education funding and reform measure on the November ballot evokes memories of another statewide tax measure in Colorado history. Each featured a governor risking political capital to support the measure, a coalition of groups rallying for the passage, and claims from opponents that Coloradans were being hoodwinked into believing a large tax increase was necessary to move the state forward,” Bartels wrote.
“But Amendment 66 is no Referendum C,” she added.
As Bartels reported, a big part of the reason Referendum C passed was due to the fact that its supporters spent all day, every day, arguing that the state’s taxpayers would not bear any new tax liability if the measure passed.
In the words of its supporters from way back then, Referendum C wasn’t a tax increase. That was actually the first phrase in the ballot question itself — “without raising taxes” were the first three words in the text of Referendum C.
“Without raising taxes” is not a phrase that Amendment 66 supporters can turn today. Far from it. This year’s tax hike proposal would be, if passed, by far the largest in the state’s history.
Bartels’ story pointed to another key difference between Amendment 66 now and Referendum C then: Referendum C was supported by virtually the entire business community, including more chambers of commerce, trade associations and jobs councils than you could fit on a full-page newspaper advertisement.
Amendment 66, again, can boast no such thing.
The comparison with Referendum C is especially relevant because that measure barely passed, even with a windfall of business support, even in a good economy, and even with a substantive nuance that allowed its supporters to argue it wasn’t a tax increase.
If Amendment 66 manages to gain approval in the absence of any such attributes, you won’t need any more proof that Colorado is a different state than the one we once knew.
As that well-known economist and comedian Jeff Foxworthy might put it: If your state approves a $1 billion income tax increase, swapping a flat tax for a redistributionist progressive levy that juices income-tax losses on families and the bulk of the state’s small businesses in the middle of the longest period of pronounced joblessness since Franklin Roosevelt, your state might be a liberal.
If Amendment 66 passes, there will be no denying that.
Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.