Governor tips hand in support of tax-hike ballot proposal

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Gov. John Hickenlooper acknowledged on July 10 that the tax hike being proposed to fund a new school finance formula is not his “exact preference,” but it is one that he thinks is “winnable” and will support.

The governor’s comments, which followed an unrelated Capitol press conference, mark the first time Hickenlooper has told reporters he supports the specific tax initiative tied to a school funding overhaul that advocates have recently decided to pursue.

The two-tiered tax hike — which will have a greater impact on higher wage earners — would fund Senate Bill 213, the “Future School Finance Act,” so long as voters approve a ballot initiative that will create about $950 million in new taxes.

“I’m not sure it was my exact preference,” said Hickenlooper, referring to the tax proposal that was chosen by education groups last month. “But the bottom line is, you gotta have something on (the ballot) that’s winnable.”

The Democratic governor added that “it’s just not worth all the trouble and work if you’re going to go to the ballot and lose.”

“So, within … that array of ballot language that conceivably can win, I think this is the best.”

Hickenlooper has been pressed to confirm his support for the tax hike since he signed Senate Bill 213 into law in May. He told reporters after the signing that he had his preferences on what the tax would look like, but he would not share them.

The governor did say at the time that he “certainly” would campaign for the ballot effort, whatever it ended up looking like.

Hickenlooper said on July 10 that he’s spent the last month having conversations with business leaders about the tax initiative

“It’s a complex issue, and in the majority of the cases, once we get the facts out there, they’re pretty supportive,” the governor said.

If funded, the new school finance act would create full-day kindergarten, provide preschool for at-risk children, and would put more money into needs-based programs for special education students and children who are learning English.

The act also aims to increase per-pupil funding for school districts across the state in a more equitable fashion than the current system allows. Initiative 22 will ask Colorado voters in November to approve an increase in the state income tax, which is now 4.63 percent for all Coloradans. Under Initiative 22, residents who make up to $75,000 a year would see their rate rise to 5 percent. Income above that level would be taxed at 5.9 percent.

Ballot organizers have until Aug. 5 to collect 86,105 valid signatures for the initiative to be placed on the ballot.

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