SENTINEL ENDORSEMENT: Don’t fall for false arguments against Amendment 73 — it’s a fair, realistic way to fund needy schools

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The argument proponents are making for Amendment 73 — raising taxes for schools — is about improving a deficient public education system. The argument critics are making against the measure are glaring red herrings.

Don’t be fooled by specious arguments that voting for a measure that raises taxes only on the state’s wealthier and wealthiest residents has anything to do with firefighters and library districts. It’s a ruse.

There are numerous politicians and pundits who are proud that Colorado chronically spends less on public education than almost any other state in the nation. It’s unsurprising they would either be confused by or congenitally opposed to a measure that raises corporate and some income taxes to boost school spending.

The embarrassment of how we mishandle public education in Colorado has long been the dark side of this sunny state. For years, actually decades, state lawmakers have been unwilling or unable to adequately fund our public schools.

Teacher salaries in Colorado are beyond shameful. They drive talented educators out of the profession and prevent prospective teachers from joining an honored and lauded calling. Who can justify spending $100,000 or more for a teaching degree for a job that pays about $32,000 a year now, and for years to come?

A growing number of rural schools can now afford to open for only four days a week, further eroding student performance.

Despite decades of turn-around plans, endless paradigm shifts and an assortment of cleverly named acronyms, the proficiency needle hasn’t moved. Under Republican or Democrat leaders and lawmakers, the overall state of public schools hasn’t substantially improved, and neither has funding.

Public education is expensive. It takes a lot of people, buildings and materials. But it’s worth every dime we spend in Colorado — and more. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have kids in school. A quality education for everyone is critical for individuals, their families, and the community they live in. Colorado residents who are more educated are less likely to use government services, commit crime, or become unhealthy.

Aggravating Colorado’s predicament is a state brimming with schools challenged by poverty, isolation and students who speak and read little or no English.

It’s not that money alone is the answer, but only more money will provide substantially effective answers to Colorado’s public education problems.

Claims that public schools already have plenty of cash, or that there’s gravy in the state budget that can be spent on schools, are irresponsible and dead-wrong. School spending took massive hits during the recession. Other critical state services are just as underfunded as are schools, and they can’t afford to be cut.

State lawmakers can’t raise taxes. Only voters can. And that’s why a growing community of educators and activists created Amendment 73.

Colorado’s tax system is complicated, but this measure isn’t. It ends the state’s flat income tax and modestly raises taxes for those who make $150,000 or more. If the measure is approved, that person would pay an additional $6.75 a month in income tax. For those who make less, there would be no increase. As income rises past $200,000, the tax rate does, too, just like it does at the federal level. Colorado is one of only eight states with a flat tax. Amendment 73 seeks to modify it to be more like that in 34 other states, because it’s more equitable.

In addition, the measure would increase corporate taxes from the current rate of 4.63 percent to 6 percent. At the same time, Amendment 73 reduces property taxes for schools, differently for property that is residential or commercial.

Critics have fixated on that change, wrongly predicting that it will cause confusion and would likely create a tax crisis by reducing tax collections for non-school government agencies.

Don’t fall for it. The measure wasn’t patched together overnight. After a great deal of research, the measure was analyzed and queried by the Colorado Legislative Council, the research arm of the General Assembly. The question of how property taxes would be assessed and imposed has been asked and answered.

Unable to gain footing anywhere else about how this measure isn’t needed or isn’t equitable, critics have resorted to an unrealistic reading of the bill, supposing a virtually impossible predicament.

What’s clear is that even if there were some aspect of the property tax language that would create ambiguity, the hearing record and amendment text is unequivocal. It was the intent of authors, and voters, to leave all other taxes and recipients unaffected. It even says so.
“…for all school district property tax levies…”

If there were a problem, state lawmakers would be free to legislate enabling bills, or the state administration could provide direction. But it won’t be necessary.

What the measure does is raise $1.6 billion a year in desperately needed cash, and it allows local school boards to decide how best to serve their own students. It means urban lawmakers can’t dictate school spending to rural districts, and partisan politicians can’t meddle in your community’s schools.

Few things can improve a life like a quality and successful education. Ask any credible economic development expert what lures the most and best jobs to a region: It’s excellent education. Effective, well-funded schools don’t kill jobs, they create them.

Vote yes on this critical measure that offers a realistic and equitable way to raise the expectations and the results from Colorado’s public schools.