Gov. John Hickenlooper gave a full-throated endorsement of a school-finance reform tax hike at a Lakewood rally on Aug. 15, marking the beginning of a campaign behind what’s expected to be the most significant ballot question voters will decide on this fall.
Hickenlooper was joined by other education-reform advocates at a Green Mountain High School rally that drew more than 100 supporters of an initiative that will create $950 million in new taxes that will fund an overhaul of the Colorado school-finance system.
“I refer to this all the time as the single most comprehensive education-reform initiative in the history of the United States,” Hickenlooper said. “With this initiative, we’re building a public education system that’s going to serve as a model for the rest of the United States.”
By passing Initiative 22 this fall, taxpayers would fund full-day kindergarten for all Colorado children and would provide more support for at-risk students and English learners. The initiative also aims to reduce class sizes and provide greater funding equality for school districts across the state.
Hickenlooper was joined at the rally by other supporters of the Colorado Commits to Kids campaign. They included Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Cindy Stevenson, who said that “an additional 3,000 5-year-olds will have free full-day kindergarten” in the county, and that at least 1,000 at-risk Jeffco children will have access to free preschool, if the initiative passes.
Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia echoed Stevenson’s call to pass the ballot measure, saying, “We know that not all kids enter school on equal footing.”
“But if we want all kids to graduate and all be ready for higher education we need to be sure we can provide the level of individualized support that not all districts can afford to offer,” Garcia said.
Initiative 22 would raise taxes on all Colorado taxpayers. The two-tiered proposal would raise income taxes to 5 percent on everyone earning $75,000 or less. Those who earn over that amount would pay 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.
Hickenlooper said that Colorado is one of the lowest-taxed states in the country and will remain so, even if the initiative passes.
But opponents of Initiative 22 were quick to jump on Hickenlooper’s comments.
“I think it’s interesting that the governor comes to the county that will get the least return on its investment,” said Jefferson County Schools Board of Education member Laura Boggs, who attended Hickenlooper’s speech.
Boggs says that Jefferson County taxpayers will pay at least $130 million in taxes, but that the school district will only get about $60 million in funding if the ballot initiative passes.
“He stands in our backyard, where our children, if this passes, are worth less than 50 cents on the dollar,” she said. “I find that interesting.”
Curtis Hubbard, of the Colorado Commits to Kids campaign, countered Boggs, saying that the initiative will result in more than $600 in per-pupil funding for students in Jefferson County, “which is an investment that we believe taxpayers will support.”
Across the street from the rally, a small group of Initiative 22 opponents attacked the “ostensible reforms” that will occur if the ballot question passes. But mainly, they argued that Coloradans “won’t have the appetite for this type of tax increase.”
“It’s just more money going into a bloated system that’s failing,” said Kelly Maher, a coalition member of Coloradans for Real Education Reform, the campaign that’s fighting against the initiative.
“We need to reform the system first before we increase taxes on Colorado families.”
Initiative 22 ballot organizers claim to have turned in more than 160,000 signatures of registered voters, nearly double the 86,105 needed to qualify for this fall’s ballot.
However, the secretary of state's office announced the day after the rally that it will have to review the signatures line by line to determine whether the measure makes the ballot. That's because the verification of a random sample of petition signatures fell into a range that requires such a review.
The secretary of state's office has until Sept. 4 to complete its review.