Routt County educators weigh support of state tax increase
Initiative 25 would raise sales and income tax rates to increase funding for public schools by millions
August 7, 2011
Steamboat Springs — A proposed tax that would increase funding for Colorado public schools is drawing support from educators in Routt County.
If passed in November, state Sen. Rollie Heath's Initiative 25 temporarily would increase the state's income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 5 percent and increase the sales tax from 2.9 percent to 3 percent for the next five years. The increase would net an estimated $535 million a year until 2017 for Colorado's public schools.
Citing three years of state budget shortfalls that have resulted in cuts to K-12 funding of more than $700 million, the Colorado Association of School Boards endorsed Heath's proposal and is asking the districts that the association represents to weigh in.
Steamboat Springs School Board President Robin Crossan and Vice President Brian Kelly were among the 140,000 to sign a petition this summer to have Heath's proposal go to the ballot box in November. The secretary of state has 30 days to verify the petitions that will determine whether the tax increase goes to voters.
"Today, we're trying to do the same or more things at our schools with less money," Kelly said. "That's why I signed" the petition.
In South Routt, Superintendent Scott Mader supports the measure, and he predicts his school board will adopt a resolution in favor of the tax increase this fall.
"We're trying to serve many, many more students with the dollars we had 10 years ago," he said. "It's impossible to keep up with the circumstances without some kind of extra funds."
And in Hayden, School Board President Brian Hoza said although he is in favor of the proposal, longer-term solutions need to be identified.
"This is just a temporary solution, and we need to look at more permanent sources of funding," he said.
Hoza and other school board members across the state concede the funding from Heath's proposed tax increase would be more of a temporary fix than a permanent solution for districts, but they also think additional sources of revenue are needed as more cuts are forecasted for next year.
Paula Stephenson, the executive director of the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus, distributed petitions for the measure in Steamboat and said Sunday that the temporary tax increase could alleviate any additional education cuts.
"I see this little step as a Band-Aid until we come up with a broader-based solution to Colorado's budget crisis," she said. "We've had the most devastating cuts in the last three years, and if this doesn't pass, we could be looking at another 10 percent cut."
Stephenson said she predicts that it will be difficult to get Initiative 25 passed in the current economic climate.
"It will be a tough battle," she said. "People are traditionally supportive of education in Colorado, and I think the education cuts we saw this year woke a lot of people up to just how dire this situation is."
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com