Guv hits trail for school-tax campaign

Opponent: Including local taxes, state is ‘anything but undertaxed’

LAKEWOOD – Gov. John Hickenlooper launched a campaign Thursday to convince Coloradans to raise their income taxes to pay for school reforms and improvements.

Hickenlooper headlined the Colorado Commits to Kids campaign rally in a hot parking lot outside Green Mountain High School.

The governor and the few hundred supporters who showed up are fighting history.

Just two years ago, voters rejected an income- and sales-tax hike for schools. But that campaign lacked a high-profile face such as the governor. Also, Hickenlooper said, it asked voters for their money without promising them any specific school reforms.

“It’s still going to be hard. I have no illusion that it’s going to be hard work. But look at the payoff,” he said.

That payoff, he said, includes an expansion of full-day kindergarten, more preschool spots for needy students, longer school days to help students catch up and strict accountability measures so taxpayers can see how schools are using the extra money.

The Legislature already has passed a bill that specifies the reforms, but it will take effect only if the tax increase passes in the fall.

The initiative seeks to raise Colorado’s income tax rate to 5 percent, a 0.37 percentage-point increase. High-wage earners would pay a 5.9 percent rate on income more than $75,000, while still paying the 5 percent rate on their earnings less than $75,000.

The state would get about $1 billion more for schools every year.

Proponents turned in 160,000 petition signatures to get the measure on the November ballot, nearly double what they needed. While the signatures have not been validated yet, activists are confident that residents will have a chance to vote on their plan.

Even if the measure passes, Colorado will still have a lower tax burden than most states, Hickenlooper said.

That irritated Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, which pushes conservative and libertarian causes.

“Colorado is anything but undertaxed,” Caldara said.

Its local taxes rank as some of the highest in the country, Caldara said, even though taxes at the state level are lower.

“My wallet doesn’t know the difference,” he said.

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