Walk Down Colo. Tax Hike Memory Lane Fails to Inspire SB 213 Confidence

Yesterday I took a glance back at how Colorado’s charter school law came to be, a truly fascinating story that’s worth the time to check out. To keep the history kick going, today I’m turning my attention to an Ed News Colorado story by Todd Engdahl about Colorado voters’ “habit” of rejecting education tax increases.

Behavioral patterns connected with exercising a little self-restraint are usually deemed to be good habits. Raising taxes is anything but an effective solution for a education system that isn’t exactly built to be productive. A key problem with the current billion-dollar tax initiative is that it’s not tied to nearly enough substantive reform to give voters confidence that the money will yield significantly positive results.

The Ed News piece, though, takes some older people on a walk down memory lane. It goes beyond the 2011 demolition of Proposition 103 as far back as 1982, to look at Colorado statewide tax hike initiatives. The result is mixed, but definitely against overall. For every Referendum C or Amendment 23 there are a couple that went down to the ashes of defeat. It seems hard to draw any big conclusions because the substance and circumstances vary quite a bit.

While they raise points on both sides, the consensus of experts in the story suggests passing this year’s K-12 tax hike will be an “uphill battle.” A few of the challenges include a lack of bipartisan political support, ongoing economic struggles, and a narrowing time frame to convince voters to open up the pocketbooks. A couple points they didn’t raise were that Colorado currently ranks 26th in combined state and local tax burden, and in current spending per student (pg 55, Table H-11).

Having said all that, one sentence in the Ed News story nonetheless raises a couple quibbles:

Some education advocates have been nervous about the fact that a final version of the ballot measure hasn’t been selected.

First, it would be really nice to know which of the 20 versions of a tax increase we are going to be confronted with deciding… and soon. Second, it’s unfortunate to see the term “education advocates” used strictly in the context of those supporting the tax initiative package. Plenty of people, including myself, support education without necessarily favoring this approach.

Having looked back once again, it’s time to cast our gaze forward with a couple parting questions: Would it help or hurt the cause if voters knew that Colorado schools report spending $9,000 to $10,000 per student each year just on operating expenses? Or that voters in some counties would end up paying a lot more in taxes than their local schools will see in their coffers?

And the beat goes on….