Apr 242008
Authors: Aaron Hedge

DENVER — In an effort to alleviate the constitutional stranglehold on state dollars to fund Colorado colleges and universities, Gov. Bill Ritter announced a state ballot initiative Thursday to funnel more state money into higher education.

By eliminating a long-standing tax credit for big oil companies, Ritter’s initiative would use those funds to form the Colorado Promise Scholarship Fund, which will go straight to students.

“Education is fundamental to everything we do as a state,” Ritter told reporters from the steps. “It’s one of the most important building blocks for our children.”

Studies show Colorado is dead last in funding for higher education, despite having one of the most educated work forces in the nation — a result of legislation prohibiting tax increases to fund universities and state highways, among other things.

Because of the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR), legislators working to pull schools like CSU from economic crisis — unable to increase state revenue through taxes — are forced to creatively maneuver funds from other programs.

Ritter said the oil industry no longer needs the money afforded by the tax credit, while other state funded programs, such as higher education, have long gone bereft of adequate funding.

If voted into policy, the initiative could double the current state funds for scholarships and grants, Ritter said.

Eligibility for the Promise Scholarship will largely be determined by financial status, but will also have merit requirements.

The campaign, largely to be run by student leaders, will be a six-month-long effort encompassing the entire state and will be voted on in November.

Ritter called it “the prudent, responsible and wise thing to do for the state of Colorado.”

“The best way to invest in our economy is to invest directly in students who are Coloradans,” he said to applause from the crowd.

The elimination of the tax credit will fund several programs, 60 percent of it going to higher education and the rest going to fund other struggling state programs like public transportation, water and wildlife preservation, Ritter said.

Blake Gibson, the president of the Associated Students of Colorado, a conglomerate of student governments from across the state, also spoke on the steps, praising the initiative as something that could bring Colorado students up from the bottom of the U.S.’s higher education funding scale.

“I think by now everyone knows of the higher education funding crisis in Colorado,” he said. “Something has to be done. . We must invest in the most important resource of the state — it’s people.”

August Ritter, the governor’s son and director of Legislative Affairs for the Associated Students of CSU, said that while the initiative brings hope to the future of higher education in Colorado, there is still much work to be done.

He called students to step up to the plate and push the measure to Colorado voters

“It’s up to students to get pumped and get this thing passed,” he said.

News Editor Aaron Hedge can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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