Liberal groups split on Colorado's Proposition 103 tax-increase measure
By Tim Hoover
The Denver Post
Look at a list of endorsements for Proposition 103, the measure to raise taxes by nearly $3 billion for education, and you quickly see some of the most influential liberal organizations in Colorado.
ProgressNow Colorado, the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute and the Bell Policy Center have all lined up behind the tax-increase measure on the November ballot, as have dozens of other traditionally liberal-leaning groups such as teachers unions.
But not everyone on the left is happy.
For such liberals as Corrine Fowler, economic-justice director for the Colorado Progressive Coalition, Proposition 103 is too flawed for her organization to support.
"For us, we really wanted to change the tax system in Colorado so it would be more progressive and so that the tax responsibility will be more equitable," Fowler said.
Under Proposition 103, the state's current income-tax rate of 4.63 percent for households and businesses would be raised – for five years – to 5 percent.
That's the level where it was in 1987, when state lawmakers ditched a graduated income-tax system in favor of a flat rate. The rate was reduced to 4.75 percent in 1999 and cut again to 4.63 percent in 2000.
At the same time, Proposition 103 would – for five years – raise the state's current 2.9 percent sales tax to 3 percent, where it was until lawmakers cut it in 2000.
The tax hikes would provide an estimated $2.9 billion more in revenue over the five-year span.
Fowler, though, said her group wanted a graduated income tax and that the current proposal hits the poor hardest.
"I think they (103 proponents) were taking the safe road, and sometimes you can't do that," Fowler said. "Sometimes you have to fight harder."
She pointed to recent nationwide Occupy Wall Street protests as evidence of a growing recognition of tax inequity.
"We're seeing that right now on the streets of every city," she said, "that people are frustrated with people who don't pay their fair share."
Similar concerns caused the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry of Colorado to take a neutral position on the measure.
"A flat income-tax rate and sales taxes are both considered 'regressive' because lower-income individuals pay a higher percentage of their income in tax (especially sales taxes) than higher income individuals," the group said of the measure. "Proposition 103 would increase the tax rate on an already regressive system."
State Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, who is leading the Bright Colorado campaign in favor of the measure, said he recognizes that longer-term questions about the state's tax structure must be addressed, but that's something that will take time.
"This is not the big fix," Heath said. "All we're trying to do is to stop the bleeding."
Carol Hedges, executive director of the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, withdrew initiatives earlier this year that would have imposed a graduated income tax. Hedges said polling showed it would take a great effort to sell the idea to the public.
"There were a lot of people who wanted a bigger fix," Hedges said. "In reality, this is what could happen in 2011. This is the best we can do."
She added, though, that while her group and others are working on longer-term efforts, "we can't wait to put this tourniquet on the problem."
Victor Mitchell, a former Republican lawmaker who is chairman of the Save Colorado Jobs opposition campaign, said he doubted that a split among liberals would make much difference in how they vote.
"At the end of the day, they're all going to come together" and support the measure, Mitchell said.
Tim Hoover: 303-954-1626 or email@example.com