Lest I be accused of never supporting a tax increase, I urge that you vote “Yes” on Proposition AA, this November's ballot measure that would raise taxes on recreational marijuana to pay for its regulation and to keep it out of the hands of kids.
However, that is definitely as far as I will go for this election. Amendment 66, the $1 billion a year income tax increase for school funding, cries out for a sound thumping at the polls for a host of reasons.
• It raises taxes on a frail economic recovery when Coloradans haven't seen their incomes budge since 2000. It proposes to spend an additional $1 billion per year on an unreformed school system just as Colorado is attempting to recover from floods that were one of the worst natural disasters in state history.
• It's a wealth redistribution scheme that unfairly burdens taxpayers in communities like the one I represent.
• It funnels more funding through the state, further undermining the principle of local control through elected school boards, and vests ever more power in a remote Denver legislature.
In 2008, Colorado and the nation experienced the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. While the economy has marginally improved since then, the recovery remains tentative. By historic standards, the current unemployment rate of 7 percent is high. And, when the number of workers counted as “discouraged” who have given up looking for employment are added in, the rate is about 14 percent, a virtual recession by most standards. Raising taxes on an anemic economy is exactly what the doctor didn't order.
A recent front-page headline in the Denver Post highlighted the fact that personal incomes have not gone up one penny since 2000. And while incomes have stagnated, think of what has happened to the price of gas, food, health care and a host of other necessities during those 13-plus years. Amendment 66 would add insult to injury by raising taxes for lower-income households by 8 percent and for those making over $75,000 by a whopping 27 percent. Amendment 66 would mean that Colorado citizens are losing ground by another billion dollars per year!
Moreover, consider the economic devastation wrought by the just-concluded flooding. Recovery and reconstruction will cost the state and its citizens untold millions of dollars. Diverting a $1 billion from what is a true emergency into an educational system that remains fundamentally unreformed is folly.
If Amendment 66 passes, the formula that determines how the proceeds will be allocated between school districts was written into legislation sponsored by Denver Democrat Sen. Michael Johnson, approved by the Denver-dominated Legislature, and signed into law by Denver Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper. The formula was adopted without a single Republican vote.
Because the formula favors low-income students and English-language learners, it favors Denver and Aurora over more affluent districts like Cherry Creek. For example, Boulder, Douglas and Jefferson counties (similar to Cherry Creek) will pay nearly one-third of the new income taxes, but their school districts will receive only a little more than half of those dollars back. For a parent whose children attend Cherry Creek schools, a yes vote on Amendment 66 is a vote that will make it just that much more difficult for those schools to retain their nationally recognized high standards.
If I have learned anything in my seven years as a state legislator, it's the “golden rule”: He who has the gold, makes the rules. Amendment 66 is a statewide income tax that will be administered under the Gold Dome. While well-intentioned, the state legislators who represent the eastern plains, our mountain communities and inner-city Denver don't understand the needs of your children's neighborhood school nearly as well as your local Cherry Creek school board member does. Going to school board meetings is easy — try it. You can shake your school board member's hand, look them in the face, and discuss issues that affect your child's education. Try that with a legislator from Durango. Or Sterling. It ain't gonna happen. If Amendment 66 passes, a distant and remote Legislature will have just that much more control over your child's education.
Don't let that happen. Vote no on Amendment 66.
Republican Spencer Swalm is a state representative for District 37, which includes part of Centennial