Our View: Back to the drawing board for education reform
November 9, 2013
There are important lessons to be learned from the resounding defeat of Amendment 66. Despite pollsters predicting passage, the measure was rejected by 65 percent of Colorado voters. In Routt County, local voters spoke more loudly than their statewide counterparts, downing Amendment 66 by nearly 70 percent with 5,009 votes cast against the measure and 2,166 cast in its favor.
Based on the lopsided nature of Amendment 66's defeat, Colorado lawmakers should be questioning their approach to education reform and going back to the fundamental question of whether additional funding is really necessary.
It's obvious that voters were not willing to saddle themselves with the largest tax increase in state history even though the stated purpose of Amendment 66 was an improved public education system for all Colorado students. Those promoting the amendment's passage tried to characterize a vote against Amendment 66 as a vote against education; the implication was unfair and did not resonate well with voters. In the end, that approach backfired among Colorado's educated electorate.
Voters also were not ready to throw
$1 billion of their money down a nebulous black hole labeled as education reform. It is clear taxpayers wanted more specifics on how that money would be spent and assurances that outcomes would be measured. It came down to a need for more accountability, and voters are not inclined to just trust state lawmakers with that amount of new tax revenue.
More than $10 million was spent on a slick advertising campaign that oversimplified the impact Amendment 66 would have on the state of Colorado. The measure was more complex than the tag line, "big change, small price," and voters looked beyond the hype.
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The implications of a shift from a flat income tax to a two-tiered progressive income tax system were more far-reaching than the claim that Amendment 66 would cost the average taxpayer only $131 per year. Taxpayers are smarter than ad agencies; they can do the math. And the people who would have paid the most taxes under Amendment 66 knew exactly how much they would be shelling out, and they knew that amount was much greater than $131 per year. A genuine grass-roots effort to convince voters of the actual need for new taxes and education reform would have been much more effective than a multimillion dollar ad campaign funded by teachers' unions and out-of-state contributors like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In our opinion, legislators need to go back to the basics, and instead of looking to a $1 billion tax increase to back Senate Bill 213's education reforms, they need to work within their means and evaluate the funding they currently have. It is quite possible that education reform can take place without raising an additional $1 billion in tax revenue. Some estimates show that current state education funding plus higher revenue forecasts could give lawmakers $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion with which to work.
If legislators think Colorado's education money needs to be spent differently, then they need to be willing to make those tough budget decisions to support Senate Bill 213. And if new funding is truly necessary to achieve real education reform, our state lawmakers need to be prepared to make a stronger case for a tax increase with clear objectives, transparency and a plan for measuring how the money is spent and whether that infusion of new funding actually will produce measurable improvement in Colorado's education system.
And lastly, we think Amendment 66's defeat was another indication that Colorado voters don't want more amendments made to the state constitution. People have witnessed the unintended consequences of passing constitutional amendments, which have hindered state lawmakers' ability to legislate efficiently and effectively on behalf of their constituents.
In the end, the defeat of Amendment 66 was not a vote against education but against new taxes, reform without accountability and more constitutional amendments.