Colorado School Tax Increase Petition Submitted with 160,000 Signatures

On Monday, supporters delivered to Denver more than the required number of signatures necessary to bring before voters a measure to overhaul Colorado’s education system.

Supporters are seeking the passage of a $1 billion annual tax increase, known locally as Initiative 22, to provide upgrades within the school system and improved accountability on how each school district spends tax dollars on education.

The upgrades will include lengthening kindergarten classes to run all day and providing free pre-school to many families.  The tax dollar spending accountability is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.

More than 160,000 individuals signed the petition.  Only 86,105 valid signatures were needed by August 5 to have the measure placed on the ballot.

Election officials have 30 days to verify the authenticity of the signatures.  Once election officials verify the signatures, they will place the tax increase measure on the ballot for voters to consider in November.

If voters choose to pass the measure, the tax increase will affect all income levels.  Taxpayers earning less than $75,000 annually will see their state income tax rate increase from 4.63 percent to 5 percent.  Taxpayers earning over $75,000 each year will pay state income tax at 5.9 percent.

Democratic State Senator Michael Johnston of Denver, who sponsored the measure, considers the upgrades and accountability a great change.

“They’ll be able to track every day where every single taxpayer dollar goes into the system,” Johnston noted.

Opponents were quick to point out shortcomings in the proposed measure as written.  Although the measure allows taxpayers to see where money is being spent, it does not ensure funds are spent in the areas approved by the voters.  In addition, opponents believe the tax increase is too large to provide what is truly necessary to address current shortfalls of the school system.

“We have the ability to fund [necessary improvements] with no increase in taxes,” noted Republican Representative Jim Wilson of Salida.  Wilson noted that the improving economy in Colorado would provide sufficient tax dollars to cover increased school costs.

Among the supporters of the petition were members of Colorado’s largest teacher union.  Ami Prichard, a member of the teacher union, noted that “almost to a person, everybody agrees that the funding in education is a problem.  Some people don’t want to pay taxes to fix it, but everybody seems to know we have to do something.”

The Colorado state legislature has already passed details indicating how the additional tax dollars will be used, despite every Republican member of the legislature voting against the measure.  However, the tax dollars will only be available to fund the new programs in the event voters pass the measure come November.

Although the petition appears to have sufficient signatures to get Initiative 22 on the November ballot, previous measures to overhaul the education system have failed to pass when brought before a vote and support for Initiative 22 likewise appears questionable.  A poll conducted as recently as April indicated that only 35 percent of registered voters were in support of the measure as written.

by Mark Johnston

Mark has been a contributor to legal web sites related to bankruptcy, tax, and criminal law since 2011. He has an Accounting degree from Texas A&M University.