It’s the only statewide measure on the November’s ballot. But so far, Proposition 103’s been a low-key campaign relying exclusively on grassroots activism on both sides. The measure aims to raise $3 billion dollars for public schools and colleges. Critics say now’s the wrong time for a tax increase, but proponents say the state’s students can’t wait. Here is the transcript of CPR education reporter Jenny Brundin’s story.
Jenny Brundin: It’s a blustery fall day and the man at the podium grabs the microphone like a preacher ready to launch into a fiery sermon.
State Sen. Rollie Heath: I hope you detect a little bit of passion in the words I’m going to speak today…
Reporter: Standing on the Capitol steps, Senator Rollie Heath begins the way he has at every forum on the Prop 103 campaign trail.
Heath: I sat and listened the Governor deliver his budgetary message...
Reporter: He starts with the story of one February day earlier this year. Gov. John Hickenlooper was presenting his budget to a legislative committee:
Gov. John Hickenlooper: Our balanced budget package reduces expenses across the board and across the state including reductions to K-12 education...
Reporter: Heath watched as the governor announced a $323 million cut to schools, which had already experienced millions in cuts the two previous years.
Heath: And I thought to myself, what in the world is wrong with this picture? Why are we doing this to ourselves? Because we know, we know that education is the key to our future. It’s the key to everything. It’s the key to jobs.
Reporter: Heath is quick to point out - there’s more to come. Another $300 million plus cut is coming this winter. That’s why he launched Proposition 103. It would inject $3 billion into schools and colleges. It does it first, with a sales tax - an extra penny on every $10 spent. And, an income tax increase from 4.63 percent to 5 percent. Families earning $55,000 a year would pay $116 more. These taxes would be in place for five years. Natalie Minton of Too Taxing For Colorado doesn’t like it one bit. Here she speaks at a south Denver debate on Prop 103.
Natalie Minton: It’s money that could go to heat, groceries, gas for your family, replacing your tires before they go bald, or clothing your children.
Reporter: But proponents say parents are hurting more because of underfunded schools. They have to pay fees that can total more than a $1,000 for things like music, gym, AP classes and riding the school bus. At a recent rally, children’s advocate Lisa Weil of Great Education Colorado read from parents’ letters.
Lisa Weil: From Kersey, 38 kids gather around an open flame in chemistry class with one adult to ensure their safety. From Lamar, we’ve cut everything we can. No librarians, almost no electives, huge classes. From Limon, my son will not get the courses he needs.
Reporter: Penn Pfiffner of the Independence Institute, a think tank that promotes economic freedom, is skeptical of Senator Heath’s claims that schools need more money.
Pfiffner: This isn’t the first dollar we’re giving to education. You’ve got that big base of the School Finance Act. On top of that came Amendment 23, then you had Referendum C come along five years later, and say well, now we need even more money to solve the problem. And somehow his Proposition 103 is going to be the magic bullet that solves education problems?
Reporter: Heath says to the contrary, he doesn’t believe Proposition 103 is a magic bullet. He says it’s designed to “stop the bleeding” until a fiscal fix is found for the state’s budget problems. Opposition groups have other concerns. Like whether the money from the tax hike would end up in the classroom. Here’s Natalie Minton with Too Taxing For Colorado at a recent debate.
Minton: What could happen is that this money, instead of going to the classrooms, could go to administrative salaries or to junkets to Vail or Florida.
Reporter: Senator Rollie Heath responded that the extra money raised from the tax will be distributed to schools the same way every other tax dollar is.
Heath: Nothing changes. So this money will go to each of your local school boards and hopefully they will use it in a way that is responsible and they’re responsible to the local voters don’t forget. So if they’re using money to go on trips to Vail and do things other than for the kids, than believe me, they’re not going to be in office very long.
Reporter: Voters will also have to sort out conflicting views on the potential economic impact of Proposition 103. Opponents say it will slow economic growth and cost jobs, while supporters contend that for the economy to grow, investing in Colorado’s schools is critical.