Supporters of Initiative 25 – an effort to boost state spending on education through increases in the Colorado sales and income taxes – formed a caravan of children’s wagons filled with stacks of petitions and marched them to the Secretary of State’s office Monday afternoon.
The petitions contained 142,160 signatures of voters requesting the measure be put on the November statewide ballot. That’s more than 50,000 signatures over and above the 86,000 required, said state Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, one of the authors of the initiative.
“This makes it virtually certain that in November Colorado voters will have the opportunity to reinvest in education,” Heath said at a 1 p.m. press conference across the street from the State Capitol. “We’ve accomplished what many, many people thought we would never achieve.”
The proposal would return state personal and corporate income tax rates to 5 percent. They were lowered to 4.63 percent in 1999. It would also increase the state portion of sales taxes from 2.9 to 3 percent. The new rates would be in effect from 2012 to 2017, and would generate an estimated $3 billion over that time. The funds could be used only for public schools and the state’s higher education system, and couldn’t be used to supplant existing funding.
Heath, who first proposed the idea to the legislature last spring as a means to staunch the ongoing cuts to public education spending, sees it as a way to stabilize education while policymakers work out a long-term sustainable solution. Spending cuts to K-12 education have totaled almost $600 million in the past three years.
He said collecting the signatures was surprisingly easy, and that he personally collected 1,022 himself.
“These petitions were every place I went over the summer: ballgames, offices, swimming pools. It’s indicative of how deep and wide support for reinvestment in education is,” he said. “The overwhelming response we got from people is that we’ve gone too far, and that it’s time to start reinvesting in education.”
Heath was joined at the press conference by Littleton resident Julie Dillon, a mother of two, who said she had never been involved in political activity before. Dillon collected 287 signatures.
“It’s clear the people of Colorado feel we must stop shortsighted and irresponsible cuts to our schools,” she said.
Heath dismissed fears that 2011 is a poor time to be putting potential tax increases to the voters. Earlier this year, Regional Transportation District officials opted not to seek voter approval this November for a sales tax increase to fund FasTracks, and Gov. John Hickenlooper has warned that voters are not in the mood to approve such requests.
But Heath counters that Initiative 25 backers were able to get all these signatures in just two months, which he says bodes well for its passage.
“People understand that education and jobs and economic development go together,” he said.
A number of mainline education groups, including the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Association of School Executives, have added their endorsement to the proposal.
Other backers include the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, the Colorado PTA, the Colorado Children’s Campaign and a host of other education- and family-related organizations.
Republicans, 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, likely under the name “Proposition 103.”