Miller: Prop. 103 makes sense for Colorado
By Alex Miller
Editor, Summit Daily News
Colorado voters this year are experiencing a bit of relief, insofar as there's only one statewide ballot measure to consider as opposed to the usual dozen or more. The proposal is relatively simple: For the next five years, bump Colorado's state sales tax from 2.9 to 3.0 percent and hike income tax from 4.63 to 5.0 percent. And who dares suggest such a tax increase in these troubled economic times? Why, it's a group of people who believe continually cutting education to balance the budget is a bad idea. The money from Prop. 103 is expected to amount to an additional $500 million or so annually over the five-year life of the proposal, to be spent on K-12 education and on public colleges.
For many Coloradans who've seen firsthand how state education cuts have impacted our schools, this is an easy one to vote "yes" on. After all, Colorado education has already seen hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts over the past few years, with another couple hundred million likely on the way in 2012. In the face of such cuts, what's an extra dime in sales tax on a $100 item plus another $100 or so in income tax on $50,000 in income?
Well, a lot, say some. Many Coloradans have been trained by TABOR thumpers and Fox News that no tax hike of any size is ever good for any reason ... EVER! There's no arguing with them on this point, and they've probably already voted "no" on 103.
For those who either haven't heard of Prop. 103 or aren't yet sure, there are a few things to consider beyond the simple math of whether you think you can afford it. There's the above-noted deep cuts to education already made with more on the way. There's the legitimate worry that the language in the ballot doesn't tell the whole story and concern that such tax hikes could make our state less competitive in some way.
The conservative Independence Institute released a report done by two economists arguing that Prop. 103 will cost a lot more than billed because the additional taxes will cost our state jobs. The "tax increases kill jobs" mantra is to be expected from conservative economists, but the report leaves out the other factor: Companies looking to do business in Colorado will not be impressed by our tanking schools and the yearly slicing and dicing of the education budget. CEOs like to locate their businesses in states and countries where infrastructure isn't crumbling, public services are strong and education is well funded. It's difficult if not impossible to say whether a tiny tax bump will drive away business, but it seems easier to conclude that a desirable business won't be impressed by four-day school weeks and other cutbacks necessitated by budget shortfalls.
It should also be noted that an increase in education funding would likely create jobs, since schools with more money are more likely to hire teachers and staff, make improvements to existing facilities, etc. Would these jobs gains combined with a more fertile business environment offset the scary tax increases that might drive away other businesses? I think so, but I can't prove it.
I love it when anti-tax bullies use the phrase "It's for the children" in a mocking tone, as if that's a bad thing. "Our children are our future" may be a cliché, but it's as true now as it ever was. Our future is poorly served if continued budget cuts in education force the closure of schools, the deterioration of the education workforce and the bricks-and-mortar structures where our kids are taught. In higher education, every cut in budget means higher student loans or more students shut out of a college degree altogether. Prop. 103 is an imperfect and temporary fix (doing away with most of TABOR would be better), but it's a relatively painless and quick measure that can help stop the bleeding.
(Online column has links to copy of the Independence Institute report as well as one in support of Prop. 103 from the Bell Policy Center.)
Summit Daily editor Alex Miller can be reached at email@example.com or (970) 668-4618.