EducationElection 2018FeaturedNews

Opponents say Amendment 73 for Colorado schools misleads voters

Author: Joey Bunch - September 19, 2018 - Updated: September 20, 2018

Teachers from Pueblo Academy of Arts in Pueblo march to the Pueblo City Schools offices on May 7, 2018. Teachers in Pueblo were on strike, shutting down schools in a dispute over how much they should be paid for the school year. (Anthony A. Mestas/The Pueblo Chieftain via AP)

Opponents of a proposed $1.6 billion tax hike for schools say the November ballot question uses bad math. The ballots, however, are already printed.

An opposition group called Blank Check. Blatant Deception. Vote No on 73 is playing a legal and political hand that proved successful in Arizona last month.

Colorado’s Amendment 73 asks voters to change the state constitution to raise income taxes on high earners, as well as hike the state’s corporate tax rate, to improve K-12 education. Called Great Schools, Thriving Communities, the ballot measure says it would impose a tax surcharge on earners of more than $150,000 a year, ranging from 0.37 percent to 3.62 percent depending on income. The corporate tax rate is said to increase by 1.37 percent.

Blank Check, however, argues that’s spin.

The existing corporate tax rate is 4.63 percent. The ballot questions, if passed, would raise it to 6 percent, which is, on one hand, an increase of 1.37 percentage points. But on the other hand, the percent increase in how much is charged is nearly 30 percent.

The Secretary of State’s Office rejected the argument Wednesday morning, noting the deadline for challenges passed in January and ballots to service members and other overseas Coloradans are to be mailed Saturday.

“A request at this late hour obviously would greatly impact the processes,” Suzanne Staiert, the deputy secretary of state, wrote in an email to Jon Anderson, the lawyer for Blank Check.

Anderson argued Tuesday that the Colorado Supreme Court “has also made clear that a court should resolve these matters before an election even if the statutory ballot title challenge process has expired.”

Blank Check is considering its next step.

“It’s clear that Amendment 73’s ballot title is inaccurate, deceptive and deeply flawed,” said Dave Davia, the co-chair of Blank Check and executive vice president and CEO of the Colorado Association of Mechanical and Plumbing Contractors. “All options are on the table. In the meantime, we will continue to educate Colorado voters to Amendment 73’s unprecedented deception and deceit.”

Last month, leaders of the group behind the measure called Great Schools, Thriving Communities explained the amendment in a Colorado Politics’ op-ed: “It freezes the local property tax rate for families, currently the third lowest in the nation, and cuts property taxes on businesses, farmers and ranchers. It only increases the income taxes for the top 8 percent of earners and the corporate tax by a modest 1.7 percent.”

Other pending ballot questions are calculated the same way. Proposition 110, for example, would add a statewide sales tax of 0.62 percent to the existing 2.9 percent levy to pay for transportation. That equates to an increase of more than 21 percent over the existing tax, not a fraction of 1 percent as some might read it.

“This is not a case of interpretation; 73’s title is plainly false,” Davia said.

RELATED: Arizona’s soak-the-rich-for-schools measure gets expelled from ballot

There is recent precedent in the favor of Amendment 73 opponents.

Proposition 207, a tax hike for public schools, was ordered off the ballot in Arizona two weeks ago over a similar complaint. The state Supreme Court agreed with that the description of the measure on petitions “did not accurately represent the increased tax burden of the affected classes of taxpayers.”

The measure would have generated an estimated $690 million for public schools by raising income taxes rates by 3.46 percentage points for those who make more than $250,000 a year, or households earning more than $500,000.

Great Schools, Thriving Communities didn’t sound worried about a late torpedo before Election Day on Wednesday, noting Colorado’s vetting process for the ballot is different than Arizona’s.

“Amendment 73 supports students across Colorado by having big corporations and developers, those that are behind these attacks, pay their fair share to alleviate underfunded schools,” said Great Schools supporter Donald Anderson of Fort Collins, one of the original proponents of the ballot question.

“Colorado has one of the fastest growing economies in the country, yet we spend less on education now than we did before the recession.”

He added, “Amendment 73 will give schools the funding they desperately need to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers, strengthen science, math, vocational, literacy, and mental health programs, and provide a safe learning environment for all students.”

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.