Prop 103 asks voters to support schools; Opponents say tax increases would slow recovery, cost jobs
By Victoria A.F. Camron
LONGMONT – Across Colorado, voters are being asked to decide one statewide issue this November: whether to raise taxes to increase public education funding.
The measure, introduced by state Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, seeks to restore Colorado's sales, use and income taxes to 1999 levels: Sales and use tax rates would be 3 percent, up from 2.9 percent – a 3.4 percent increase – and the income tax rate would be 5 percent, up from 4.63 percent – an 8 percent increase – for five years beginning in January.
Tax rates would return to current levels in 2017.
The additional funds are expected to generate $3 billion, all of which would be designated for preschool-through-12th-grade schools and higher education. The ballot question specifies that the additional revenue be "in addition to" funds allocated in the 2011-12 school year.
The state has cut $700 million from kindergarten-through-12th-grade education in the past three years, according to the Office of State Planning and Budget.
Proponents, including the St. Vrain Valley School District Board of Education, say education funding will continue to be cut if Proposition 103 fails.
Organizations such as Vote Yes on 103, a self-described coalition of parents, teachers and community members, argue that passage of the tax increase will help the economy and attract businesses with good jobs to the state.
However, Save Colorado Jobs, which opposes the proposal, argues that the tax increase will slow the state's recovery and cost it a cumulative total of nearly 119,000 jobs by 2016.
St. Vrain's chief financial officer, Terry Schueler, said Thursday that officials estimate education funding will be cut between 15 and 19 percent each year for the next five years if Proposition 103 fails.
The Legislature cut the education budget in 2010-11 and 2011-12, so that per-pupil funding is expected to be $6,328 this year, which is lower than the $6,548 per pupil allocated in 2007-08.
Had the Legislature funded schools at the levels guaranteed by Amendment 23 -- the rate of inflation and, until this year, 1 percent -- St. Vrain would have received $7,271 per pupil for 2011-12, nearly 15 percent more than it expects to get.
If current predictions pan out, St. Vrain will see another $6 million cut, or $200 per student, next year. That equals the salary and benefits paid to between 80 and 115 teachers, Schueler said.
Proposition 103 also allocates money for higher education.
Tuition at the University of Colorado has increased 154 percent since 1999 as the state's contribution has fallen to 28 percent in 2009 from 60 percent in 1999, leaving families to pick up the difference, according to the Bell Policy Center.
Victoria Camron can be reached at 303-684-5226 or firstname.lastname@example.org