Nuances are crucial with Amendment 66

Editor’s note: Through the Nov. 5 election, the Herald is examining common claims made in ballot campaigns.

Campaign: Amendment 66, an income tax increase for public schools.

Claim: “A sizable portion of this money is going to go to the pension system, based on teacher salaries.”

Who is saying it: State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, a Republican, on radio station 850 KOA on Wednesday.

Stapleton is making a more nuanced version of a claim by Amendment 66 opponents that the money will be diverted to pensions instead of helping kids.

To the extent that some of the approximately $1 billion a year in new taxes will be spent to hire teachers – or pay current teachers better – Stapleton is correct. Retirement contributions are a component of teacher pay, so Colorado’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association stands to receive a portion of each new paycheck.

Stapleton is a critic of PERA and predicts that in the future, it will need more money from government to stay afloat. However, his argument has nothing to do with Amendment 66. If he is correct and PERA begins to fail sometime in the future, governments and school districts will have to pay more with or without the passage of Amendment 66.

A less nuanced argument that classroom money will be siphoned away to PERA is incorrect. Money collected by the increased tax will go into an education fund, and it cannot be diverted directly to PERA. State funding for schools also cannot be cut below its current level, so there is no “backdoor” way to use school taxes for PERA or any other purpose.

Annual audits by the state will check to see if the law is being violated, and the audits will be released to the public.

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