Advocates of a $950 million education tax increase Tuesday kicked off their campaign with a low-key news release.
“It’s no secret that we need to invest more in education in Colorado if we want our students and state to have a bright economic future,” said Barbara Baumann, president of Cross Creek Energy Corp. and identified in the release as “supporter” of the effort.
The release was issued by OnSight Public Affairs, a Denver political consulting firm that has been advising backers of the effort.
As expected, supporters are moving ahead with what’s currently called Initiative 22. That measure would raise state individual income tax rates to generate an additional $950.1 million a year to pay for Senate Bill 13-213, the proposed overhaul of the state’s school funding system. The initiative proposes a two-step increase in rates.
The business-oriented civic group Colorado Forum filed 16 versions of a proposed ballot measure by a state-required deadline last March. Since then there have been prolonged behind-the-scenes debates, primarily within the business community, over which version to propose to voters. There was persistent disagreement over whether to push a flat tax increase or a graduated proposal.
The campaign has until Aug. 5 to gain the 86,105 signatures needed. Political veterans generally feel at least 100,000 signatures should be gathered to provide a cushion for invalid signatures. The petition campaign will use a combination of paid and volunteer circulators, said Curtis Hubbard of OnSight. Paid petition circulation will be handled by FieldWorks, a Washington-based firm.
Some backers of the tax increase, particularly in the education community, had become increasingly nervous as the petition deadline approached without any formal campaign launch. Backers did receive state approval for the format of petitions a couple of weeks ago, petitions were printed and some petitions already have been circulated by members of the Colorado Education Association.
Hubbard said the campaign was launched now, about 40 days before petitions must be turned in, because “We were trying to build a coalition and get feedback … trying to make sure that process was as inclusive as possible. It takes time; now we’re ready to move forward.”
Members of the advocacy group Great Education Colorado also are expected to circulate petitions. “There are more volunteer groups that are coming on board all the time,” Hubbard said.
“We fully expect to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. How hard that will be remains to be seen,” said Hubbard, who recently joined OnSight after resigning as editorial page editor of The Denver Post. He said there isn’t a specific target for an “overage” of signatures.
“We’re focused almost exclusively on qualifying for the ballot,” Hubbard stressed. He said that gathering a formal list of supporting organizations, creating a full-blown campaign organization, fundraising and other tasks will come later.
“The campaign structure is something that’s going to be designed as we go along,” Hubbard said. He did note that Mike Melanson and Ben Davis, founding partners of OnSight, “will be involved in campaign strategy on a day-to-day basis.” In recent years those two have been heavily involved in campaigns for Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, both Democrats.
The initiative would repeal the annual K-12 increase formula contained in Amendment 23, passed by voters in 2000. Instead, a minimum of 43 percent of current tax collections would be devoted to K-12 support. The revenue raised by the new rates, called the “income tax increment,” would go into a special account to be used for “educational reforms and programmatic enhancements” above current levels of school funding.
Colorado’s current income tax rate is 4.63 percent of federal taxable income for all individual taxpayers. Initiative 22 would impose an additional .37 percent on all income up to $75,000 a year. Taxpayers who earn more than that would pay the additional .37 percent on the first $75,000 of income and an increase of 1.27 percent on the amount above $75,000.
Colorado Commits has registered as a campaign committee with the Colorado Department of State. The registered agent is listed as Tracie Moore, an employee of the campaign consulting firm Tightline Strategies, which has office in Washington, D.C., California and Missouri. The campaign also has a bare-bones website here.