There’s one puzzling aspect to Proposition EE, but overall the measure accomplishes good things for Colorado and we’re encouraging voters to approve it and get the ball rolling on universal preschool for our state’s children.
Proposition EE would increase taxes on nicotine products to pay for preschool programs and, in the short-term, provide resources to mitigate some financial impacts of COVID-19.
The biggest selling point is that EE would close a loophole that contributes greatly to the state’s vaping problem among teens and adolescents. Vaping products are not currently taxed at all. Once taxed, the products would be tougher for teens to afford, thus preventing them from getting hooked on nicotine.
Other than adding a first-ever tax on vaping products, EE is substantially identical to a measure to raise taxes on tobacco products that voters rejected in 2016. The only difference is in how the additional revenue would be used. In 2016, tax revenue from Amendment 72 would have gone toward health-related programs and tobacco cessation. It failed 53% to 47%.
This year’s measure earmarks money to rural schools, K-12 education, eviction legal aid and housing programs in its first three years. After that, the money would predominantly go to preschool programs, with a small portion going to tobacco education and general state spending.
This is where issues of fairness factor in. As opponents point out, the measure asks the 14% of state residents who use tobacco and nicotine products — many of whom are low wage-earners — to shoulder a tax load that benefits everyone.
The inverse argument is that tobacco taxes are still relatively low in Colorado and tobacco users — who face increased risk of stroke, cancer and heart disease — contribute to high health-care costs that impact everyone.
Our take: It’s high time we instituted a tax on vaping products. Pairing that with an increase on all other tobacco products accomplishes two things: It reduces tobacco use overall, but especially among young people, who are most price-sensitive. And it allows the state to begin building the infrastructure to make early childhood education available to all Colorado children.
We’ve long advocated for more funding for preschool as the ultimate “upstream” approach to solving some of our biggest problems, especially here in Mesa County, where it’s expensive and hard to find.
Here’s a way to firmly establish the value of early childhood education on a statewide level. Only half of Colorado children are attending preschool before kindergarten. The state’s preschool program, which is risk-based, only serves 40 percent of eligible students now.
Research shows that quality preschool education sets children on a path to academic and lifelong success.
“It’s a huge equalizer,” said Jessica Giles, council coordinator for Partnership for Children and Families, who’s working to get the measure passed. Every dollar invested in quality preschool results in $8-16 in avoided societal costs and an increase between $2-3 in per-capita earnings for Colorado residents, she said.
Children who get an early childhood education have higher graduation rates and less activity with the criminal justice system. To circle back to the taxing question, we hope that providing kids with a strong start and a good foundation helps them make good decisions, like not experimenting with nicotine.
But Proposition EE aids that cause in the most practical way — by driving the cost of the gateway product up and out of reach of children. “Perhaps the most significant advantage here is in trying to find a way to help parents keep their kids nicotine free at least until they are adults,” said Steve ErkenBrack, former head of Rocky Mountain Health Plans, who’s helping pass the amendment.
We concur. Proposition EE curbs vaping. That alone is worth a yes vote. But it also provides funding for an important program that has never been funded to its full potential. Early childhood education is too important to keep putting off. Here’s a funding source that comes from a voluntary choice people make.