Tax hike for schools makes ballot

Measure would raise $536 million in 1st year

DENVER – Colorado voters will decide in November whether to raise their taxes to spare schools from further cuts.

Secretary of State Scott Gessler announced Wednesday that Proposition 103 – a temporary tax hike – qualified for the ballot.

Supporters had turned in more than 142,000 signatures, and Gessler said his audit of a random sample determined that 98,369 were likely to be valid – well more than the 86,105 that petitioners needed to qualify for the ballot.

The initiative’s author, Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, said he never really doubted his question would make the ballot.

“I’m excited. You take a test and you know you’ve done well, but it’s nice to see the grade,” Heath said. “We knew we had done well, much better than anyone had expected.”

Heath formed a citizen campaign after he failed to gain support in the Legislature for a tax increase for schools, even from many fellow Democrats. Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has often questioned the wisdom of asking for a tax increase this year.

Proposition 103 asks voters for a five-year increase of sales and income taxes.

Sales taxes would rise to 3 percent, up from the current 2.9 percent. Income taxes would go up to 5 percent, from a current 4.63 percent.

The change would raise $536 million in its first year.

An opposition campaign, Too Taxing for Colorado, criticized the initiative because it would send money to the state general fund, where it could be spent on nonschool items.

Heath said he wrote the initiative to make sure the extra money keeps schools at least at their 2011-12 funding level.

Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, said the way to support schools is by creating jobs.

“Democrats don’t get it. Colorado’s hardworking families and job creators are struggling to survive in this recession. The last thing they need right now is Democrats pushing another state tax increase,” McNulty said in a prepared statement.

Heath credited hundreds of parent volunteers for putting the initiative on the ballot. The campaign also used paid petitioners and got a $100,000 donation from Gary Williams Co., a Denver-based oil company.

After the petition drive ended, the state’s largest teachers union, the Colorado Education Association, pledged its support.

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