Politics

Colorado Voters Reject Proposed Tax Hike for Schools

Oct. 28, 2011: Students at Carmody Middle School board buses after school in Lakewood, Colo. The only statewide tax vote on the ballot in the Nov. 2 election asked voters to pay more tax to support the school system.

Oct. 28, 2011: Students at Carmody Middle School board buses after school in Lakewood, Colo. The only statewide tax vote on the ballot in the Nov. 2 election asked voters to pay more tax to support the school system.  (AP)

Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected the only statewide tax increase on ballots this November -- a "no" vote on education funding that revealed the sour mood of voters in this swing state. 

Proposition 103 would have raised state taxes to generate $2.9 billion for public schools and colleges over the next five years. It was losing 64 percent to 36 percent with most ballots counted. 

Many local bond and mill levy questions also lost badly in towns and counties across Colorado on Tuesday. From local school efforts to a question about building a new recreation center in Denver suburb, voters largely said no. 

"I understand the plight of schools and everything, but personally, I don't want to pay more taxes right now," said Mike Tiderman, a 44-year-old customer service worker in Denver. 

Supporters had hoped that years of deep budget cuts to education would give voters an appetite for higher taxes, despite nagging unemployment in Colorado. Earlier this year, Colorado lawmakers cut K-12 schools' funding by more than $200 million, to $2.8 billion. 

Republicans quickly claimed victory in the tax measure's defeat. 

"We can't help children by bankrupting their parents," said Senate Republican Leader Bill Cadman. 

"People are just not ready yet to have the conversation we need to have about how to fund government at all levels," said the proposal's main sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Rollie Heath. 

Both parties say Colorado is a crucial bellwether state to watch next year. President Obama, who has traveled to Denver twice in the last five weeks to pitch his plans to improve the economy, called Colorado "a state that represents the future" Tuesday in an interview with Denver's KUSA-TV. 

The GOP, meanwhile, has vowed to put Colorado back in its column. Colorado voted twice for former President George W. Bush

Proposition 103 would have raised individual and corporate tax rates from 4.63 percent to 5 percent and Colorado's sales and use tax rate from 2.9 percent to 3 percent. The rates would have been in effect from 2012 through 2016, with the $2.9 billion in new revenue during that time going to K-12 schools and public colleges. 

Because Colorado's state Constitution forbids lawmakers to raise taxes, the higher tax rates were petitioned onto ballots thanks in great part to the efforts of Heath. But other Democrats, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, declined to get behind the idea. 

On Tuesday, Hickenlooper released his budget proposal for next year, calling for $89 million in cuts for public schools. Public colleges and universities would get $60 million less.