This November there will be three ballot measures that on the surface sound ok, but once the impacts are understood each Coloradan will realize the need to vote no on Proposition 101 and Constitutional Amendments 60 & 61.
The first two measures are about significant state and local tax/fee cuts and the third is about constraining financing at state/local levels. All three are a reaction to what is happening at the federal level regarding budgets, national debt and the financial meltdown. The difference here though is we need to know what Colorado spends its general fund on and what projects it finances and not confuse that with uncontrolled federal spending and the failure to regulate financial markets properly.
First let’s see where we are so we can appreciate the impact these three measures will have on all Coloradans. The state’s general fund is divided into a few basic areas: 42% K-12 public education, 21% health care/Medicaid; 9% human services, 9% higher education, 9% corrections, 4% judicial and 6% other (2009 fiscal year). As you look at this list you realize the importance of each on our day-to-day lives. I’m going to focus this discussion on K-12 public education.
Colorado ranks 42nd nationally in K-12 public education funding; our funding per student is $1,397 below the national average. This amount doesn’t include the 6.2% decrease in state education funding for the 2010-2011 school year. State funding accounts for 70% of our school districts’ general operating funds. Colorado ranks 42nd in elementary school students enrolled per teacher and 41st in technology in our schools. The point is our starting point for K-12 funding is in the bottom 20% of the nation.
So let’s look at the gist of these three measures. Prop 101 would reduce state income tax from 4.63 to 3.5%, car registration to $10, and eliminate telecommunication charges. This would result in a loss of $1.6 Billion in state revenue (20% of the current state general fund), or $672 Million for K-12 (42% of that total). The implication for K-12 is a significant loss of teachers, larger class sizes and fewer instructional programs. Remember where Colorado is starting from in the previous paragraph.
Amend 60 would cut local property taxes for schools by 50% and says the difference will be made up by state funding. With the 20% state revenue cut from Prop 101; how does the state accomplish this? Additionally, this amendment would retroactively override previous local elections and current school funding measures. For StVrain Valley residents that means the voter approved 2008 mill levy override would go away. Again the same impacts to education from the previous paragraph will occur, only more amplified.
Amend 61 would significantly impact the method (10 year versus 25 year bonds) school districts use to build schools and conduct needed repairs/improvements to existing schools. The StVrain District has had significant student growth over the last decade, and through voter approved bond issues in 2002 and 2008 have built 10 new schools and conducted necessary repairs/upgrades to older schools to address this student growth. This wouldn’t have been financially feasible using 10 year bonds. Additionally, Amend 61 wouldn’t allow the state to float short-term interest free loans to school districts to operate their normal August to May school calendar. Instead school districts will be forced to align with the collection of property taxes, thus adopting a March to November school year.
These three measures will signal an end to providing our children with an adequate education. They will result in a StVrain student funding decrease of $1,781 per pupil – a 26% cut (Source: Looking Forward Colorado). A 26% cut in education funding will not attract employers to Colorado or help retain employers already here. Businesses look at several important factors when relocating to a new state; the quality of K-12 education is one of them. Business employees don’t want to move their families to a state with a poorly funded K-12 system, nor do employers want to hire from a poorly educated work force. Additionally, property values are directly impacted by the quality of the school district. A 26% cut will adversely affect that quality and thus property values.
That is why I say these three measures impact all of us: children, parents, educators, property owners, employers and employees. So vote no on Prop 101 and Amend 60 & 61 this November to ensure a viable future for Colorado.
written by Alex Sharp
member of Grassroots St Vrain