Sen. Rollie Heath, of Colorado’s 18th district, took his interim time between sessions this year to campaign for an initiative that would bring in a total of $3 billion to education institutions across the state — an effort that has since paid off with more than 142,000 signatures.
His proposal, which would raise Colorado’s income and sales tax rates to levels not seen since 1999, could generate the funds needed over the next five years to counter the recent announcement of statewide education cuts.
Individual and corporate income tax would be raised from 4.63 percent to five percent. Additionally, the sales and use tax would be raised from 2.9 percent to three percent.
Heath said these increases alone would be enough to bridge the deficit on education.
The citizen’s initiative has 142,000 unverified signatures, which are being reviewed — the petition needs at least 86,105 to get on the ballot. Despite this, it is behind in polling and does not have adequate funding. But it won’t stop Heath from campaigning.
“We think it’s a good bill, but we’re playing the waiting game until Congress reconvenes and we can get a better sense of the debate,” Chase Eckerdt, Governmental Affairs of ASCSU, said. “But we’re glad that voters will have a say for the future of education. It was a big step to get it on the ballot.”
Heath has gone around to several student governments in the state, but interestingly enough, has not made his way to Fort Collins to meet with ASCSU.
“We are one of most, if not the most, influential student governments in the state so we expect to be in the mix eventually,” Eckerdt said.
This year, Governor John Hickenlooper proposed a budget with $332 million in cuts to K-12 and higher education, with more cuts being necessary in 2012. “It was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me,” Heath said.
Some Coloradoans, however, were upset when they cut the tax rates to begin with.
“Some of our current budget mess is a product of those decisions which were, in my judgment, misguided,” said John Straayer, a political science professor at CSU.
“I would have signed the petition. I will vote ‘yes’ — I do hope it passes and turns out to be the first of several badly needed fixes to our state fiscal policy,” he said.
The bill is also quite popular among students ,who would like to see those 20-percent tuition hikes be subsidized by state funding.
“If they can get it passed I think it would be great for all students in all schools across Colorado,” junior mechanical engineering major Nate Thompson said.
However, the fate of this initiative is uncertain and even if it gets on the November ballot, few experts give it a chance to pass. Heath continues his campaign across Colorado, rallying support and hopefully gathering funding.
Staff writer Justin Rampy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.