Hickenlooper commits to campaign for $950 million school tax hike
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Gov. John Hickenlooper is doubling down on his support of a $950 million tax hike that would pay for the state’s school finance overhaul.
In an interview with The Denver Post, Hickenlooper said he would advocate for passage of the proposed two-tiered income tax by participating in discussions, talking with opponents and, if needed, making television and radio appearances.
Hickenlooper said while tax increases may not be popular, the proposed November ballot measure would pave the way for needed reforms. Reforms, he said, have garnered attention and support from Microsoft founder Bill Gates and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
“There have been a number of other tax increases that have been proposed and we have resisted it but, in this case, I think the benefits far outweigh the costs of increased taxes,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s a chance for Colorado to be the No. 1 state for public education in the U.S.”
Duncan stood by the reforms outlined in Colorado’s school finance overhaul Thursday in a telephone interview.
“The governor is trying to make a very significant play here to make a huge investment in education and wants to make sure that the state is not investing in the status quo but in a vision of reform,” Duncan said. “This is sort of the crux of the debate the country is having: ‘Do we view education as an expense? Or do we view it as an investment?’”
Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 213, a school finance overhaul, into law in May, but his support of the tax that would fund it was not clear until last week when members of the Colorado Forum, a group of business and civic leaders, shared comments he made to the group with the media.
He is now elaborating on those comments, saying the proposed ballot initiative would pay for measures that would, among other things, increase access to pre-kindergarten and full-day kindergarten and offer additional money for special-education programs. And, he said the legislation would make school districts more transparent.
Hickenlooper said he gathered his thoughts on the proposed ballot measure for the first time last week when he met with the Colorado Forum.
The tax proposal must garner 86,105 signatures by registered Colorado voters by Aug. 5 to secure a place on the ballot.
The measure would set a flat-tax rate of 5 percent for all taxable income up to $75,000 a year and raise that rate to 5.9 percent for any income earned above that amount.
Colorado’s current income tax rate is a flat 4.63 percent.
“I obviously wanted the lower, flatter tax increase there could be, but, in the end, if you’re going to support something, it’s got to have a chance of winning, and the flat tax just wasn’t going to win,” Hickenlooper said. “The two-step tax, I think, does have a chance of winning.”
Colorado Republican Committee spokesman Owen Loftus called the governor’s support of the initiative “mind-boggling.”
“It’s amazing that as we are just trying to get out of a recession, the governor is going to push a $1 billion tax increase on every single working family, on every single business owner and every senior citizen in the state of Colorado,” Loftus said.