The first question I ask on any bill that comes before the Colorado House of Representatives is: How will it affect my constituents in Routt and Eagle counties?
I get answers by carefully reviewing all materials presented by both sides and asking questions of proponents and opponents. Then I request more data from staff.
When Senate Bill 13-213, the Future School Finance Act, arrived on the House floor in April, I delved deeply into the data and concluded that the bill and the ballot initiative derived from it, now called Amendment 66, would benefit children, parents, teachers and our communities in Eagle and Routt counties while making our state more attractive to new and existing businesses. It moves us closer to a fiscally sustainable public education system where all children have an opportunity to succeed and flourish, regardless of their parents’ Zip code.
Amendment 66 is a sound investment in our children’s future and our economy, locally and statewide. It provides:
■ Increased per-pupil revenue over the current 1990’s state funding formula for Steamboat by $353 per year, for Hayden by $522, for Soroco by $375.
■ Investment in preschool, full-day kindergarten, special-needs, at-risk and talented-and-gifted students and locally controlled innovation at the district, school and classroom levels.
■ Predictable, sustainable funding for public schools, including charter schools.
■ An unprecedented level of accountability and transparency down to the actual classroom level, requiring rigorous, detailed posting on a public website of data on teacher proficiency, student achievement and level of program success.
■ Funded requirements to replace the unfunded mandates now in effect for school and teacher accountability.
■ Funded emphasis on making sure students graduate from high school and are fully prepared for success in higher education and the workplace.
■ A step toward solving our state’s structural budget imbalance.
Until 1987, Colorado had a graduated income tax. In 1987, it became a flat
5 percent. In 2000, the rate was decreased to the current 4.63 percent flat rate. If Amendment 66 passes, the new income tax rate will be 5 percent again for income as much as $75,000, then 5.9 percent on income greater than $75,000.
Reports of Amendment 66’s impact on Coloradans’ checkbooks have been wildly exaggerated. The Blue Book, page 5, gives reality-based estimates of what the dollar and percent increase would be under Amendment 66 at various levels of gross income. For households at the Colorado median income level of $57,000, the investment would be $133 annually. That’s $11.08 per month.
At Steamboat Springs median household income of $64,885, the tax increase would be $150 annually under the proposed formula, or $12.50 per month.
I take very seriously every penny of our state’s tax dollars, and if Amendment 66 weren’t such a wise investment, I wouldn’t support it. I feel strongly that Amendment 66 is a small price to pay for a stable education system that will reap big dividends for our community’s and our state’s prosperity.
Moreover, if we don’t pay now, we’ll have to pay more later. The University of Denver’s “Financing Colorado’s Future” report (www.du.edu/economicfuture) finds that “our system for funding K-12 education is failing the state.” The report estimates that by 2024, we will have a
$3 billion shortfall in our state general fund even if we eliminate state support for all programs other than education, Medicaid and the prison system.
We can’t continue to leave our education system vulnerable to severe budget cuts.
According to the September economic forecast the Legislature just received, Colorado may hit TABOR limits within two years, requiring the state to refund revenues to individual taxpayers. If Amendment 66 does not pass and the state hits its TABOR limits, the state share to SSRE2 and all districts will decrease from the current formula.
Passage of Amendment 66 will benefit all our children, our communities and our state and local economies by providing equal opportunity for high-quality, innovative P-12 education, attracting new businesses and jobs to our state and helping to create a 21st century workforce so Colorado can better compete in the global economy.
State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush’s House District 26 includes Routt and Eagle counties. She has lived in Steamboat Springs since 1976.