More than 142,000 signatures were turned in Monday for an initiative that is billed as a tourniquet to stop the yearly cuts to Colorado education. Primary petition sponsor Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, turned in his petition signatures to the secretary of state’s office for approval and, along with a coalition of organizations, he’s now planning to gear up a campaign to convince voters in November that a temporary tax hike is needed to stop further cuts to preschool through higher education.
The Bright Colorado campaign surpassed its goal of 125,000 signatures by nearly 20,000, a feat made more significant by the fact that it represented a significant grassroots effort by more than 650 volunteers, according to organizers.
“It was a grassroots effort in every sense of the word as people came together and said we can’t allow further cuts in education,” Heath said in an email to the Colorado Independent.
The initiative was introduced in response to recent budget cuts that have reduced education funding by hundreds of millions of dollars and have caused teacher layoffs, tuition hikes and the loss of school services. Over the last four years pre-school–12th grade education has been cut by $700 million, while higher education has been slashed by more than $200 million in the last two years, according to Bright Colorado, an umbrella organization for a coalition of more than 40 education, religious and progressive groups.
With a Colorado budget that has already scraped the bones, education has become one of the only places left to cut and will likely see further cuts in next year’s budget unless new dollars can be found. Bright Colorado believes part of that solution can be found in returning tax rates to 1990 levels.
If approved by voters, Initiative 25 hopes to stop the bleeding by raising roughly $536 million per year over five years for Colorado preschools, K–12 and higher education programs by raising the state income tax from 4.63 percent to 5 percent and the sales tax from 2.9 percent to 3 percent. It is expected to raise close to $3 billion in total.
While some groups have raised concerns that the tax increase, though based on a graduated federal tax system, is not itself progressive and could dissuade citizens from voting for long-term solutions to Colorado’s fiscal crisis, supporters of the initiative said further cuts to Colorado’s education system must be stopped in the short term while systemic fixes can be found. Supporters said they are making it very clear that the initiative is a temporary but necessary band-aid to a problem that will need future care.
“Now the question for Colorado voters is ‘What kind of Colorado do we want?’ Do we want a state that reinvests in its future by educating our kids and our workforce, or a state that funds education at close to the lowest level in our country?” Heath said.
Though the initiative only needs 86,105 signatures to be placed on the November ballot, organizers of the campaign said that bad signatures or challenges meant that it was always best to shoot for more. They feel that by surpassing their goals they are well on the way to seeing their initiative on the ballot. The secretary of states office is now reviewing the signatures.
“By voting yes, Colorado will establish itself as a national leader by reinvesting in our future, our kids, jobs and our economy,” Heath said. “It will state loud and clear that we are open for business. That’s the best economic development message we can send.”