Metro Chamber of Commerce: Raise Denver sales tax to fund higher education

Today the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce officially threw its support behind the citywide ballot initiative to raise public funds for college scholarships. For the business network spanning seven counties, 3,000 businesses and 300,000 employees, the proposed measure is a chance to invest in homegrown workforce development.

“Our pipeline from the education system to the workforce is not keeping up with demand. We’ve known this for many years,” said Chamber of Commerce chairman and furniture store owner Bob Deibel in a release. “We attract highly educated workers from across the U.S.–especially for highly-paid jobs that require post-secondary training — but we are not doing what we need to do to cultivate our own homegrown workforce.”

To put it another way, the Chamber quantifies the shortfall in higher-education funding in a paper published online about why education matters to businesses. Right now, just 46 percent of Colorado’s adult workforce has a two-year degree or more. But by 2018, 67 percent of jobs in the state will require some kind of post-secondary education. And Denver students aren’t getting there. Just around half graduate from high school. Less than a quarter attend college. And just under 10 percent complete a college degree.

The report concludes that Colorado has a revenue problem. So allocating those limited resources to education has to be done efficiently and with careful priorities. The Board advises that any additional education funding be linked to reforms with built-in accountability. And when it comes to raising money, the Board advocates for a flat tax that doesn’t discriminate between individuals and corporations. 

The Board also strongly endorses “the critical support role that non-profit organizations play in the success” of Colorado’s education system.

Denver Issue 2A  fits those basic parameters — except, arguably, reform and accountability.

The plan was developed by a group of leaders from Denver’s education, philanthropy, civic and business community. Mayor Michael Hancock endorsed it in his inaugural address in July, then City Council approved the ballot question late last month.

So now it’s up to voters to make the final call in November. If voters say yes, the measure would bump up the city’s sales tax by .08 percent, and that extra revenue would go toward a new Denver College Affordability Fund. The fund would reimburse nonprofit organizations that provide scholarships or other support to Denver students as well as pay down the loans of graduates saddled with debt.

The proposed sales-tax hike amounts to 8 cents on every $100 spent in the city, which is estimated to generate more than $10 million a year.

Students age 25 or younger who have lived in the city for at least three years, demonstrate financial need, enroll in a Colorado school and keep up decent grades would qualify. Scholarship organizations would be reimbursed 75 percent of what they spend on each student, and there’s a $4,000 annual funding limit for each student.

The tax would expire in ten years.

Supporters say the funding could ensure Denver students have a chance to get secondary education, but detractors say that isn’t the city’s responsibility.


Photo by Owen W Brown, Creative Commons, via Flickr


  1. The end goal here is admirable. However, we shouldn’t be increasing regressive taxes to pay for it. I’m sure the DMCC approves as it won’t actually impact their members in any real way. Denver is a wealthy metro area, we should find ways to pay for programs without further soaking the working class.

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