Our View: Vote ‘no’ on Proposition 103 | SteamboatToday.com

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Our View: Vote ‘no’ on Proposition 103

Proposition 103 proposes a statewide increase to income tax and sales tax rates but fails to specify how $2.9 billion in new revenue for public education will be allocated. Absent that accountability, and without a clear line from increased education spending to improved student achievement, voters should reject Proposition 103.

The ballot issue, proposed by Boulder state Sen. Rollie Heath, a Democrat, seeks to address cuts in education spending at the state level brought on by Colorado's budget crises of the past few years. The state's fiscal woes and how that impacts public education funding is complicated further by the dueling nature of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights and Amendment 23. TABOR limits the amount of revenue the state can collect and spend each year while Amendment 23 mandates increased annual spending on K-12 education.

The result has been slashed higher education spending — and increased tuition costs at colleges and universities across the state — as well as dramatically reduced budgets for state departments such as transportation. And K-12 spending hardly has been saved by cuts elsewhere. Even with Amendment 23, public school districts across Colorado, and including our three districts in Routt County, have been forced to make sizeable budget cuts in recent years.

So along comes Proposition 103, which would raise the state sales and use tax rate from 2.9 percent to 3 percent and the state income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 5 percent for a period of five years. The resulting revenue, estimated to be $2.9 billion over the life of the tax increase, would be spent on education programs from preschool through higher education, referred to as P-20.

But that's about as specific as Proposition 103 gets in terms of how billions in taxpayer money will be spent. Instead of identifying programs and priorities, the measure simply leaves it in the hands of state lawmakers to decide how to spend the money. There's no guarantee the revenue will be distributed evenly among school districts across the state, or even that all districts will get money at all. And if the money does get to districts like Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt, how will the money be spent? On salaries and benefits for staff? On technology in classrooms? On previously cut programs? We don't know, and neither does anyone else.

Supporters of Proposition 103 say it's a Band-Aid that will keep public education funding at current levels while the state works at larger budgetary reform. We won't hold our breath. But maybe rejecting a statewide tax increase that provides no accountability for how the money will be spent would send a much stronger and clearer message to lawmakers that our education system, including how we fund it, needs to be reformed, and soon.

Vote "no" on Proposition 103.