As the Colorado Independent’s Scot Kersgaard reports this morning:
He’s been talking about it since early in the just finished legislative session, but State Senator Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, Monday launched his campaign to raise Colorado taxes in order to better fund education.
“I just think that investing in education is the best way out of the situation we’re in,” Heath said, referring to the limping economy.
His proposal, which will go on the ballot in November as initiative 25 (pdf) if he is successful in gathering the needed signatures, would raise state sales taxes from 2.9% to 3.0% and would raises state corporate and personal income taxes from 4.63% to 5.0%. Both increases would stay in place for five years…
Heath said the state cannot afford to do nothing, having cut K-12 education by about $200 million this year and knowing that the state will probably be looking at additional cuts next year.
“I know this is just a bandage but we have to stop the bleeding,” he said.
In March, it was reported that Sen. Rollie Heath’s measure would not have a so-called “sunset provision,” a change made in response to legislation that would have made future ballot measures more difficult to pass. Since that legislation failed, Heath reinstated the sunset.
But what Sen. Heath is proposing, sunset or no, is nothing more than a return to tax rates that were in effect before cuts passed under Republican Gov. Bill Owens in 1999 and 2000. There’s already a wacky wall of chaff going up from the right wing over this, but it’s very difficult to make a concrete argument that 1999 tax rates were harmful to the economy. We don’t buy the axiomatic correlation of low taxes and economic growth to begin with, but you certainly can’t back that theory up by looking at Colorado’s economy since these taxes were cut.
The other fact that frequently gets lost in this discussion is this: Colorado’s total tax burden on residents is significantly below the national average in every category–sales tax, property tax, business tax, and income tax. The line between Colorado’s low tax rates and chronic inability to pay for every kind of essential service is so easy to draw, so much more so than many other states, that we’re continually surprised at how difficult it seems to be to convince people to do the really obvious thing you need to do to fix the problem here.
See that? In two paragraphs, we just explained why Sen. Heath’s initiative is necessary, and how objections to it can be fairly effortlessly demolished. It seems easy to us, but whether that translates into the kind of broad institutional support for Sen. Heath’s ballot measure that would be needed to pass it remains to be seen. There is no finer testament to the courage of a public servant than his willingness to stand alone at a podium and say what needs to be said, what so many are thinking but don’t have the courage to say–like Sen. Heath did yesterday.
But for this to work, courage from others will be needed.
UPDATE: More commentary here.