Prop 103 pushes toward finish

Gov. Hickenlooper vows the money, if approved, will go to education

DENVER – Supporters of a proposed tax increase for schools made a last-minute show of unity Thursday, five days before voting closes on Proposition 103.

State Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, touted support from former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien and a variety of groups, including the Colorado Nonprofit Association and the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

Heath’s Proposition 103 would raise sales taxes by 0.1 percentage points, to 3 percent, and income taxes to 5 percent, up 0.38 percentage points. The increases would bring nearly $3 billion to schools and colleges over the five-year life of Prop 103.

Rural communities understand the need particularly well, said Paula Stephenson of the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus.

“In rural Colorado, we haven’t just tinkered around the edges, we’ve cut to the core and are now struggling just to survive,” Stephenson said.

With a lack of polling and little money to spend on either side, no one seems sure how the election will go. But opponents were feeling confident.

“I still think people are going to reject Proposition 103, because it is a $3 billion tax increase in the middle of a recession,” said Tyler Q. Houlton, president of Compass Colorado, a political nonprofit group that has run radio ads against Prop 103.

Houlton added that, although Prop 103 directs all the money to go to education, there’s no guarantee schools will see it because the Legislature can set the budget however it wants.

However, Gov. John Hickenlooper took that possibility off the table Monday afternoon, saying he would veto any bill that used Prop 103 money for anything other than education, even though he has held off on endorsing the initiative.

“I’m happy to say that if it passes, I would make sure that money went to education as was intended,” Hickenlooper said. “The voters vote for it. My goodness gracious, the least they should expect is I would uphold their will.”

Heath’s supporters need a strong finish. As of Wednesday, 484,000 people had returned ballots in the mostly mail election, including 206,000 Republicans and 157,000 Democrats.

Although a week remained until Election Day, the tally was far short of the 1.8 million ballots cast in the 2010 U.S. Senate election.

Win or lose, Heath said, the campaign has succeeded in getting people to talk about the state’s fiscal problems.

“I think what we’ve done is energize this state in ways that would not have been possible without an initiative that forced this conversation,” Heath said.

Critics of the state constitution – with its competing mandates to limit taxes and boost spending – have talked for years about asking voters for a rewrite, but they have never taken the plunge with a ballot issue.

Several Democrats went on the record in support of Prop 103, including state Senate President Brandon Shaffer, who is running for Congress in the Eastern Plains district.

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