Amendment 66 goes down

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A ballot measure that sought to overhaul the way Colorado schools are funded suffered a sound defeat on Nov. 5.

Voters by a resounding margin rejected Amendment 66, a measure that would have created at least $950 million in new taxes annually to fund major school reforms across the state.

It was never close. After early returns showed the measure to be doomed, the only matters in question were how wide of a margin the ballot measure would fail by, and at what time would supporters publicly admit defeat — which occurred about an hour after 7 p.m. poll closings.

As of the early morning of Nov. 6, Amendment 66 had been rejected by about 66 percent of voters, with 91 percent of precincts reporting.

“Perhaps this wasn’t the right transaction,” Gov. John Hickenlooper acknowledged to a room of muted and disappointed supporters from inside downtown Denver’s Marriot Denver City Center.

Trying to remain positive, the governor also said that “no one fought against” the measure’s vision of making funding for Colorado schools a model for the rest of the nation. Hickenlooper said he will continue to strive toward achieving that goal.

“Every great social victory in the history of this country was based on a number of failures,” Hickenlooper said.

Meanwhile, Amendment 66 opponents crowed.

“Colorado families spoke loud and clear,” said Kelly Maher, executive director of Compass Colorado, a group that worked to oppose Amendment 66. “We need substantive outcome-driven reforms to the educational system before we ask families and small businesses to foot a major tax bill.”

The measure sought to fund full-day kindergarten, preschool for at-risk youth, and would have provided more resources for English language learners, special education students and children who are in gifted and talented programs.

Additionally, the measure aimed to reduce class sizes and would have reformed per-pupil funding statewide in a more equitable fashion, proponents argued.

While the reforms may have sounded good to many people, even the governor acknowledged that the hefty price tag associated with overhauling the new funding system was responsible for turning off many voters.

The measure would have raised taxes on all Colorado taxpayers. The two-tiered proposal would have raised income taxes to 5 percent on everyone earning $75,000 or less. Those who earn over that amount would have paid 5 percent on the first $75,000 in taxable income and 5.9 percent on taxable income above $75,000.

Colorado’s current income tax rate is a flat 4.63 percent, regardless of income level.

The measure sought to put in place legislation that was enacted through Senate Bill 213. The Democrat-sponsored bill — which was signed by Hickenlooper in June — did not receive a single vote from Republican lawmakers.

Republicans and other critics blasted the school funding overhaul as a “billion-dollar tax hike” that comes at a time when Coloradans are barely coming out of a recession. They also argued that Senate Bill 213 did not put in place the kind of reforms to warrant that kind of a tax increase.

Opponents also argued that much of the revenue that would have been raised through Amendment 66 would have ended up going to school districts other than the ones where taxpayers’ children attend.

The measure was rejected in just about every area of the state. For example, late returns showed the measure was failing badly in Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas, El Paso and Jefferson counties. The only large counties that could end up seeing majority support when the votes are officially tallied are Denver and Boulder.

The campaign that drove Amendment 66, Colorado Commits to Kids, had a huge fundraising advantage over its opposition, having collected more than $9 million for the measure’s messaging efforts.

“Honestly, you could have had the best messaging in the world, I just think that people felt it was too expensive,” Hickenlooper told reporters after his remarks.

Maher said afterward, “Never has so much been spent by so few to accomplish so little.”