Education tax plan debated

School-finance proposal includes two-tiered hike

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Opponents call it the biggest income tax increase of our time, and say it’s a disproportionately designed, untested proposal. Proponents say Amendment 66 exacts a minimal fee that in the long run will translate into an improved economic scenario for all. 

Four people, including the co-author of the amendment, argued on both sides of the issue during a Sept. 26 Highlands Ranch library forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters as the upcoming election nears.

In Douglas County, the amendment will cost residents more in taxes than it returns in increased school funding, opponents say.

The ballot question will ask voters to approve a two-tiered income tax hike that would raise about $950 million for public school funding. Colorado’s current flat income tax of 4.63 percent would change to 5 percent for those earning $75,000 or less. Those above that mark would pay 5 percent on the first $75,000 and 5.9 percent on earnings above that.

State Sen. Mike Johnston, who also led the charge for Colorado educator effectiveness law in 2012 — also known as Senate Bill 191 — said Amendment 66 will transform Colorado’s education funding.

“Not just where those dollars go, but the results we get from those dollars,” he said during the forum.

The money would fund full-day kindergarten, allow for schools to extend school days and/or calendar years, expand technology and education options, restore programs lost to budget cuts and change the funding formula to avert looming future financial snags.

But opponent Steve Durham, a former Colorado senator, said there’s no proof the proposed changes will work as intended, adding that higher income taxes could deter productivity and ding the economy.

“I’ve always come from the school that if you tax something, you’ll get a little less of it,” he said.

Though he didn’t attend the Sept. 26 forum, school board member Kevin Larsen is an outspoken critic of the proposal. Because the incomes taxes proposed under Amendment 66 are tiered, the relatively affluent residents of Douglas County will take a disproportionate hit, he said.

“Ninety to $100 million of new taxes to Douglas County will result from the passage of Amendment 66,” he said.

In return, the county will get back from the state an estimated additional $50 million in annual school revenues.

“Douglas County is a net giver,” Jefferson County School Board member Laura Boggs said during the forum. “We send lots of tax dollars downtown and we don’t get all the tax dollars back. This exacerbates the problem.”

Johnston sees the tax increase, which he said translates to an average of about $133 a year, differently.

“After this passes, the state of Colorado will have a lower combined tax rate than seven of the states around us (and) all 12 of our director competitor states,” he said.

Great Education Colorado director Liane Morrison, the fourth speaker at the library forum, said the amendment will more equitably distribute education funds so children in poorer communities have opportunities similar to those in Douglas County.

“You want (your children’s) colleagues to have an equal experience like you’re trying to get your kids,” she said. “We either put it in at this end, or the other end. If you put it in early, society reaps great benefit.”