Colorado voters strongly favor Proposition II, letting the state put more money into universal preschool

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Lisa Roy, executive director of the Colorado Department of Early Childhood.

It appears Colorado will be able to put an additional $24 million into its universal preschool program.

As of 8:30 p.m., returns show Proposition II, which allows the state to keep all of the tobacco and nicotine taxes it’s been collecting, leading by 66 percent to 34 percent.

Gov. Jared Polis sent out a statement celebrating the measure's passage. "Coloradans value early childhood education and I am thrilled people voted in favor of providing more funding for our free universal preschool program that is saving families money, and this voter-approved measure will help fund more preschool for kids," he said.

Prop. II's roots go back to 2020, when voters approved taxing cigarettes, vapes and similar products to fund preschool. At the time, government analysts predicted the tax would generate $186.5 million in its first full year. But consumption far outpaced that projection and the state actually collected $208 million.

Under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, when the state earns more from a new tax than it originally told voters it would, it must ask their permission again to hold on to that money. If voters say no, then the excess is refunded.

In the case of the tobacco and nicotine tax, there was no clear refund method and so state lawmakers had proposed sending the money back to wholesalers and distributors if Prop. II had failed. Colorado would have also had to slightly lower the tax rate on these products going forward. 

While Prop. II had no official opposition, Republican lawmakers did oppose putting it on the ballot, arguing the state originally told voters how much money it planned to collect and should just stick with that amount.

However, supporters of expanded early childhood education said the extra tax revenue could allow the state to expand its support for thousands of families, particularly children with disabilities and those living in poverty, foster care or homelessness.

“We all, as a community, have to stand in the gap for providing high quality preschool and childcare to our young children,” Heidi Heissenbuttel, the CEO at Sewell Child Development Center in Denver, told CPR News before the election. “There was a crisis before the pandemic, it's even more of a crisis now.”