The Steamboat Pilot & Today editorialized recently in opposition to Amendment 66. It also has published several letters both pro and con. Much of the discussion has been focused on the fact that Routt County will pay more in taxes than it will get back in education dollar benefits. For some, including the Pilot, this is reason enough to oppose the amendment. For others, their support of the amendment is not predicated on this calculus. Allow me to offer a few additional points that go beyond this narrow dollar flow issue.
Amendment 66, as it affects this valley and statewide, is a job killer, pure and simple. It moves Colorado in a fiscal direction followed by many states with unemployment rates well above the already too high national average. As a location-neutral worker who was glad to say goodbye to Maryland just as its governor and state Legislature embarked on a high tax-and-spend agenda, I doubt others like myself will see Colorado’s proposed 26 percent income tax increase on middle class incomes and above as a good reason to choose this state in the future instead of other nearby potential locales. These states have many of Colorado’s assets, and they understand what it takes to attract jobs and grow an economy.
Then there are the grossly misleading advertisements being run by supporters of Amendment 66. People wonder why there is little trust in politics today. These ads are Exhibit One. The ads say that the tax increase is only a mere $133 per Colorado family. This is the left’s usual statistical magic trick. What they don’t mention are the two key elements in the proposed increase. One is that the initial increases for taxpayers earning more than $75,000 annually is, as I mentioned earlier, about 26 percent. These are the taxpayers who already provide just more than 75 percent of all state income tax revenue. Two, is that an indexation to inflation provision is written into the amendment. This allows the state Legislature to blow through any previous tax caps as long as the increases apply to education. Inflation indexation in tax rates is the pro-spending crowd’s most sought after tax provision. Readers may remember the bracket creep that occurred before the ’86 tax reform at the federal level. Dollars flowed in like water for every pet program as federal politicians cheered on higher rates of inflation.
Finally, there is the issue of how the new money likely will be spent. Amendment 66 advocates cheer on the prospect of more dollars to reduce teacher to student class size ratios. This motherhood, apple pie message energizes parents and anyone who wants to do the right thing. Unfortunately, the relationship between class size ratios and educational outcomes is close to zero. I would refer all to the comprehensive work done on this subject by noted economist and former Deputy Director of the Congressional Budget Office Eric Hanushek. Once above the fourth grade, there virtually are no positive outcomes resulting from reducing class size by any reasonable amount, including what could be paid for by the increased funding contemplated by Amendment 66.
Recently, the Wall Street Journal editorial page suggested that if Amendment 66 passes, it may be that our fellow citizens “have taken to smoking that marijuana they legalized last year.” Fortunately for the hopeful possibility that this does not happen, recreational use won’t become legal until a couple of months after ballots are cast on the amendment. As is often said, in politics timing can be everything. Let’s hope this is right.
Former U.S. assistant secretary of labor