Voters Defeat Proposition 103

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4min 47sec

Proposition 103 -- the nation's only statewide tax vote on the November ballot -– was soundly defeated last night, by 64 percent to 36 percent. Voters across the state said no to raising sales and income taxes to boost money for schools and colleges. Here's CPR education reporter Jenny Brundin's story.

Reporter Jenny Brundin: A small crowd of Proposition 103 supporters arrived at Denver’s La Rumba nightclub with high expectations, buoyed by the Talking Heads singing Burning Down The House. But the house went cold fast when the crowd saw the first election returns. Within an hour of polls closing, State Sen. Rollie Heath, the driving force behind the measure, stepped up to a podium.

Heath: It’s clear that the people of this state aren’t ready to tax themselves to solve the problems, the immediate problems.

Reporter: Over at the Old Mill Brewery and Grill in Littleton, an even smaller crowd had gathered.

Tax opponent Regina Thomson: OK guys, the Denver Post has called the election on 103 that we have successfully defeated it.

Reporter: Regina Thomson, the executive director of Too Taxing For Colorado, the main group opposing Proposition 103, says the reason it failed comes down to this:

Thomson: People are just simply taxed to the point of not being able to stand it anymore. I personally live in Aurora and I was looking at a tax increase for recreation centers, one for open spaces, and one for a library district. For me personally there was four tax increases on my ballot, and I don’t know how many other voters had the same thing, but that’s alarming.

Reporter: Proposition 103 asked voters to raise income and sales taxes for five years. The measure would have plowed an estimated $3 billion dollars into schools and colleges reeling from years of budget cuts. Prop 103’s defeat comes on the heels of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Tuesday budget proposal of another $89 million cut for K-12 schools and $60 million targeting colleges. Sen. Heath says that’s a funding crisis that’s not going away.

Heath: What I hope is the people of this state will come together and say we need to make some changes, we need to figure out a way to solve the issues, the revenue of this state, we need to find a way to finance our education in a different way.

Reporter: Heath had called the measure a temporary time-out from budget cuts, until lawmakers can work out a long-term fix to education funding. That message resonated with some voters, like Phoenix Cai, who called the tax hike modest. She’d just voted near Denver’s Washington Park.

Proposition supporter Phoenix Cai: I think it’s worth it. I mean if it were for infrastructure I probably would think differently, something that can be delayed until economy is better, but I don’t believe that education is something that one can wait for.

Reporter: Others said the time wasn’t right for a tax increase. Voter Ron Ellis had just finished voting in downtown Denver.

Ellis: I think in general, it’s a bad time to raise taxes. For me personally, I really wouldn’t be affected that much but I think overall people would be affected. That’s the reason I voted no.

Reporter: Supporters of Prop 103 knew they were at a disadvantage because the governor and business leaders stayed on the sidelines, and the state of the economy didn’t help either. Neither side had much money to spend compared to past ballot measures. So they relied on a grassroots campaigning. Prop 103’s supporters thought reaching out to thousands of parents would bring them victory. Last night, they maintained that they did have one big win though -- the campaign generated thousands of conversations about school funding. Here’s Carol Hedges, director of the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, which backed the measure.

Proposition supporter Carol Hedges: There are no regrets in this campaign folks. We’ve got work to do. Be proud of what we’ve done. And then strap your boots back on again folks, because we’re going to be back at it again.

Reporter: Sen. Rollie Heath also said last night, it’s just the beginning. To that , Too Taxing For Colorado’s Regina Thomson says:

Thomson: You know Rollie bring it on. If it’s a bad proposal, then we’ll be back to oppose it again.

Reporter: And there was more bad news for schools last night . Most of the local mill levy overides to replace lost state funding, and the bond measures to ease classroom overcrowding, failed.

[Photo: CPR]