For Aspen, Jeffco, and Others, Billion-Dollar Tax Initiative Also Happens to be Unfair

The Aspen Daily News yesterday reported on the struggle facing school board members in the upscale mountain community as they ponder whether to support the billion-dollar tax hike headed for November’s ballot:

Board member Elizabeth Parker told Pitkin County commissioners in a joint meeting Tuesday that she would have a hard time throwing her support behind Amendment 66, which voters will decide in November, because it will likely lead to future requests for local tax increases.

Yes, that’s one valid concern. One can imagine how that might make it difficult for a school board official to hesitate in supporting a proposal that means more tax dollars for education programs. Initiative 22 (probably soon to be renamed Amendment 66) puts the heat on a number of districts to ask local residents for more in property taxes. It also provides state dollars to underwrite many local mill levy elections, and creates three new types of mill levy taxes.

But it’s certainly not the only point of contention that it creates for the Pitkin County school district. How about the fact that Aspen is one of 13 school districts that actually will end up with fewer dollars per student if the initiative passes — $211 per student less, to be precise.

So much for the proposition that “All school districts in Colorado will see an increase in their state funding above current levels.” The statewide tax initiative is tied to a new formula that redistributes dollars. Another way to look at it: If the same amount of money were raised and allocated through the old formula, Aspen would be $2.1 million (or $1,200 per student) better off.

But lest you think the issue is isolated to handful of upscale mountain communities, look at the state’s largest school district: suburban Jefferson County. The new formula shortchanges Jeffco by about $12.1 million. Under the amendment coming to the statewide ballot, the county’s schools will get back only about 56 cents for every additional dollar the county’s residents will have to pay in higher state income taxes. Jeffco enrolls 10 percent of the state’s public school students but will get less than 8 percent of the new funds.

The more I learn about Colorado’s billion-dollar statewide tax hike, the more my little stomach gets queasy. That billion dollars a year is just the beginning. And as much as we see how little true reform is in the proposal, it’s also upsetting to see just how unfair the whole plan is to many students, parents, and other taxpayers.

Can we get a do-over… Please?