No gold star for Heath’s tax plan

Boulder Democratic state Sen. Rollie Heath angered many on the Western Slope, The Daily Sentinel among them, with his congressional redistricting plan that would have carved up western Colorado and placed Mesa County in the same district as Boulder.

So skepticism is understandable for Heath’s plan to help fund education in Colorado by temporarily raising the state income tax and sales tax rates. Is this another plan that will benefit the Front Range at the expense of rural Colorado?

We don’t believe there’s anything so nefarious in Heath’s education tax plan. He, like many other people across Colorado, appears sincerely concerned about the condition of education funding in this state.

When School District 51 is forced to carve roughly $12 million out of its budget for the next school year — and the cuts affect classroom instruction, not just ancillary services — there is reason for people in the Grand Valley to share those worries.

As Heath noted, a quality education system is tied directly to our economy. “We can’t recruit businesses and continue to be a great state without a quality education system,” he said.

Allowing the education system to deteriorate in economic hard times is akin to a farmer eating his seed corn to survive a drought. It may help in the short term, but it will leave you with nothing to grow for the future.

We have a couple of problems with Heath’s plan, however. First, with everyone from Republican lawmakers to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper to many Colorado citizens saying this is the wrong time to raise taxes statewide, we don’t think it’s politically feasible.  Even if Heath is successful in getting the measure on the ballot this fall, it is unlikely to do well among Colorado voters.

Second, although it isn’t a Front Range-versus-Western Slope issue, Heath’s tax plan would leave people in this valley paying higher taxes in part to support school districts in other parts of the state. That’s because, under the school finance formula, School District 51 is perpetually at or near the bottom of the pack in the amount of state revenue it receives. That won’t change if Heath’s plan were to pass.

We know people in Mesa County will always be skeptical of tax increases, but we think they would be more supportive of a tax hike plan if they could be certain all of the money raised would be going directly to remedy funding problems in our schools. That’s why we continue to believe the most sensible plan for this district is to develop a funding proposal specific for this community, and ask voters in School District 51 to approve it.



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