Colorado Senator Submits 142,000 Signatures to Put Tax Increase on the Ballot

Surprising many in the state, state Senator Rollie Heath delivered more than 142,000 signatures to the secretary of state's office in support of a ballot initiative that would increase taxes to raise over $3 billion for education.  Sen. Heath, who authored the initiative, announced the petition drive in May, and claims to have personally obtained more than 1,000 signatures.

To qualify for the November 1 ballot, supporters need the valid signatures of 86,105 Colorado voters.  

Initiative 25 would temporarily increase the state income tax rate from 4.63% to 5% and the sales tax from 2.9% to 3%.  These were the rates in effect in 1999.   The initiative directs all of the increased revenue to education, resulting in an estimated $536 million in additional funding in each of the next five years. The funds could be used only for public schools and the state’s higher education system, and could not be used to supplant existing funding.  The tax increases would begin in 2012 and expire at the end of 2016.

Over the past three years, Colorado has made over $700 million in cuts to K-12 funding, and an additional $228 million will be cut for 2011-12. 

In a press release, Sen. Heath said that the support for the ballot initiative proves that Coloradans recognize the need to invest in education.  “Coloradans know that educated children and an educated workforce are critical elements to attracting the types of jobs and companies to Colorado that we need to be successful," Heath said.

"Now the question for Colorado voters is 'What kind of Colorado do we want?' Do we want a state that reinvests in its future by educating our kids and our workforce, or a state that funds education at close to the lowest level in our country? By voting yes, Colorado will establish itself as a national leader by reinvesting in our future, our kids, jobs and our economy. It will state loud and clear that we are open for business. That's the best economic development message we can send," said Heath.

The initiative has now received the support of two major education groups in the state. The Colorado Association of School Boards passed a resolution supporting the measure, and the legislative committee of Colorado Association of School Executives endorsed the bill in July. However, the most powerful education group in the state - the Colorado Education Association - has not yet taken a position. 

Business groups in the state are beginning to weigh in as well.  The Boulder Chamber of Commerce became the first such group in the state to endorse the initiative.   "Nobody likes tax increases, especially at this time in our economy," said the group's president, Susan Graf, "but there is nothing more important to economic vitality than having an effective education system."

The Denver Metro Chamber will consider the initiative at an upcoming meeting, as will the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry.

Republican groups, however, largely oppose the measure, arguing that any tax increase will inevitably lead to job losses. 

If the Secretary of State’s office confirms the petitions contain enough valid signatures, it will be the only citizen initiative on the statewide ballot this year.