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Does a tax increase for public schools stand a chance today?

August 4, 2011

The Denver Post reports that Colorado will see a November ballot proposal to increase the state sales tax and income tax to provide funding for public schools.  State Sen. Rollie Heath of Boulder collected enough signatures to get his proposal up for a vote, even without the help of the most powerful teachers’ union in the state.  The effort has seen some late support from other educator groups and even from some business groups.

The NCES report The Condition of Education 2011 lists Colorado as receiving, on average, only about 42.2 percent of public school funding from state sources (on the low side of rates in the region), only slightly more than the amount received from property taxes, so it is unclear how much this will boost revenue, though supporters are claiming about $5 billion will be generated over the full five years of the plan.

Districts across the country are considering ways to generate further tax revenue, but I suspect an up-or-down ballot proposal in Colorado will see the same response as most other “revenue generation” efforts have – the fierce opposition in most quarters to any tax increase and a serious suspicion of any government action to fund public entities.  The recent contentious federal debt limit debate is only one sign of the climate any supporter of tax increases will need to overcome.  Then again, this February, the Tax Foundation ranked Colorado 39th in state and local tax burden among the 50 states, so Sen. Heath may be able to carve himself some breathing room.

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