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Steamboat Springs In the same week that two of Routt County’s three school districts endorsed a November ballot measure that would raise an estimated $2.9 billion for public schools by increasing state taxes for five years, a group of lawmakers in Denver kicked off an opposition campaign.
Hours before delivering a press conference Thursday at the state Capitol, where he warned that Proposition 103 would be harmful to Colorado’s economy and kill jobs, former state Rep. Victor Mitchell, R-Castle Rock, said he would work until Nov. 1 to ask voters to oppose the tax hike.
“It’s absolutely terrible, and it’s coming at the most inopportune time,” Mitchell said. “A tax increase when unemployment is almost at 9 percent comes at a terrible time.”
Proposition 103 would generate an estimated $532 million next year for school districts in Colorado by raising the state income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 5 percent, and the sales tax rate from 2.9 percent to 3 percent starting Jan. 1.
Mitchell said the increase is too much.
“It’s going to hurt every Colorado citizen, whether you live in Steamboat Springs or along the Front Range,” he said. “This is no small tax increase.”
State Sen. Jean White, R-Hayden, declined to offer a position on the measure on Thursday but also said it comes at a difficult time.
“My initial feeling is that people in general don’t have an appetite for a tax increase,” she said.
In addition to the support of Steamboat and South Routt school boards, the tax initiative, which was placed on the ballot after proponents collected 140,000 voter signatures in support of the measure, also has been endorsed by the Colorado Education Association and the Colorado Association of School Boards.
And a study done by the nonpartisan Colorado Center on Law and Policy, which also has endorsed the ballot measure, estimates Proposition 103 would prove to be lucrative for Routt County schools if funds are distributed according to current funding formulas.
Terry Scanlon, a fiscal policy analyst for the center, said Monday that in its first year of passage, Proposition 103 could net $1.2 million for schools in Steamboat Springs, $263,000 for schools in South Routt and $267,000 for schools in Hayden.
“Proposition 103 gives voters the chance to stop the irresponsible and shortsighted cuts to schools we’ve seen for years now,” Scanlon said.
A list of needs
As the opposition campaign begins in Denver with the launch of social media and grass-roots campaigns, school board members are beginning to outline what they need the extra funding for.
Hayden School Board President Brian Hoza said that as enrollment continues to decline in his district of just more than 400 students, extra sources of revenue are needed.
“The revenue we would get from Proposition 103 would be enough to allow us to continue with another four staff positions that without it we might have to tighten down,” he said. “Our funding from the state right now isn’t adequate to maintain our staffing and our programs.”
He also said there are several capital improvements that need to be made to the district’s aging buildings and that some repairs have been forgone to save staffing positions in the wake of budget cuts.
The Hayden School Board has not voted to support the tax initiative, but Hoza said he likely will endorse it.
Steamboat Springs School Board Vice President Brian Kelly said before endorsing the proposal Monday that there were several programs that could be sustained next year by the revenue that the tax increase would generate.
“With the extra money, we’d likely not have to cut teachers or the band program or take some funding out of our athletic budget,” Kelly said. “Programs are the next level of cuts, and those include P.E., athletics and things like music classes and art.”
He cited Steamboat’s fifth-grade band program, something he said was on the cusp of being axed this year, as something that could avoid cuts if the schools receive funds from the tax initiative.
And in South Routt, School Board President Tim Corrigan said this week that additional revenue could be used to provide step increases for staff members and to increase teacher contracts from nine to 10 months, giving teachers time to develop curricula during the summer.
However, Corrigan said a tax increase this year will be a tough sell.
“People are strapped right now for money and having a tough time making ends meet,” he said. “It’s difficult enough for people to live in a mountain community without asking for tax money. But I think that people generally are in favor of education funding.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com