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Election preview: Lone Colorado ballot measure faces voter decision

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October 31, 2011

By Al Ortiz


DENVER, Colorado: Colorado faces one ballot question tomorrow, but it all started on May 16, 2011.

On that day, Colorado State Senator Rollie Heath, a candidate for the Governor of Colorado in 2002, introduced the final details of his proposed sales and income tax increase for education funding. The initiated state statute was then circulated, gathering enough signatures to be placed on the 2011 ballot as Proposition 103.[1]

The measure would increase the state income and sales tax. Specifically, it would increase the state income tax to 5 percent and the sales tax to 3 percent. Currently, the income tax is 4.63 percent and the sales tax is 2.9 percent. It is estimated that the measure would generate about $3 billion, according to reports.

Heath said at that time: "Doing nothing in the face of these horrible budget cuts is just not an option."

Now, with the statewide election set to take place on the first day of November, it has become clear that for as much support Heath has gathered, there is also strong opposition.

Sides have been clashing since Heath unveiled his tax increase, with notable supporters and opponents surfacing to give their opinions on what impacts the measure could or could not have.


Alongside Heath are a slew of supporters including the Colorado Education Association, the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Association of School Executives and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

Rollie Heath introduced Prop. 103 in May 2011

A main argument from supporters is that an increase in state taxes will not hurt the state economy, but instead point to potential cutbacks in education should the tax increase not be approved. Heath emphasized this by saying the measure would "hopefully keep schools open, keep teachers on the job, keep librarians in place, allow for all the extra curricular activities, provide computers for kids. We’ve taken out over 500 million dollars the last two years, this would help replace that."

When the Colorado Education Association came out to endorse the measure, after initial silence, CEA president Beverly Ingle said in a statement: "We're greatly encouraged to see that so many voters share our view that great economies start with great education. This wonderful coalition of concerned civic groups, businesses and families is tired of hearing that student growth isn't a budget priority. We stand with them to remind all Coloradans that the education of our children is the state's most pressing obligation and most critical investment."[2]


Opponents of the proposed tax increase argue that although the tax may generate an estimated $3 billion in new taxes, it will cost the state 119,000 jobs after five years. Additionally, opponents argue that despite budget cuts, education is not in need of the additional revenue that may generated by the proposed measure. "K-12 is not lacking funding. K-12 is lacking structural reform," said former state Rep. Victor Mitchell, who is heading Save Colorado Jobs, a group in opposition of the proposal.

Among those who stand in opposition to the measure include the newly formed Compass Colorado, the Colorado Progressive Coalition, State Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp and Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute.

Caldara stated: "It is difficult to get something on the ballot purely with volunteers, especially something like this. It’s easier to get something on the ballot like abortion and gun control, something very easy to understand. This one’s not quite as easy."[3][4]

Quick hits

  • Supporters were required to collected at least 85,853 signatures from registered state voters by the August 1, 2011 petition drive deadline in order for the measure to make the ballot.
  • On the day of the deadline, Heath and supporters submitted 142,160 signatures, more than the 86,105 valid signatures needed to place the measure on the ballot.
  • Opponents filed a complaint with the secretary of state's office stating that a signature gatherer for the initiative broke the law with "false and misleading statements" about the measure. No action was taken.

Will history repeat itself?

Since 2000, there have been 5 measures on the Colorado ballot dealing with increasing taxes in some form. The following is how those measures fared when voters flocked to the polls to decide their fate:

Year Measure Impact Result
2003 Amendment 32 Would have increased taxable portion of residential property Defeatedd
2004 Amendment 35 Proposed to increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes by 64 cents Approveda
2006 Referendum H Would increase state business income taxes owed by some businesses. Approveda
2008 Amendment 51 Proposed to increase state sales tax to fund services for developmentally disabled Defeatedd
2008 Amendment 52 Would have increased severance tax, create the Colorado Transportation Trust Fund Defeatedd
  • Average margin for defeated measures: About 35.7%
  • Average margin for approved measures: About 12.4%

How will you vote?

The following is the ballot language of the measure, provided by the Colorado Secretary of State:

State taxes shall be increased $536.1 million annually in the first full fiscal year and by such amounts as are raised annually thereafter by amendments to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning a temporary increase in certain state taxes for additional public education funding, and, in connection therewith, increasing the rate of the state income tax imposed on all taxpayers from 4.63% to 5% for the 2012 through 2016 income tax years; increasing the rate of the state sales and use tax from 2.9% to 3% for a period of five years commencing on January 1, 2012; requiring that the additional revenues resulting from these increased tax rates be spent only to fund public education from preschool through twelfth grade and public postsecondary education; specifying that the appropriation of the additional tax revenues be in addition to and not substituted for moneys otherwise appropriated for public education from preschool through twelfth grade and public postsecondary education for the 2011-12 fiscal year; and allowing the additional tax revenues to be collected, kept, and spent notwithstanding any limitations provided by law.[5]

See also

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