DeGROW: K-12 tax campaigns still seen as good investment

By   /   October 24, 2012  /   Comments Off

By Ben DeGrow | Special to Colorado Watchdog

CAN MONEY buy love for Colorado schools?

Money couldn’t buy Paul McCartney love. But it remains to be seen how many local school tax increases money can buy in Colorado this year.

Ed News Colorado reported Tuesday that committees organized in 22 different school districts to promote property tax hikes are nearing the $1 million mark in total campaign expenditures. Their opponents? Not so much. A measly $7,750.

Of course, no one should be too shocked at the disparities. Individual taxpayers stand far less to lose than the bond dealers, contractors and union leaders who primarily have bankrolled the proposals. The effect is exacerbated by the 1982 Gallagher Amendment, which has heavily burdened business owners far more than homeowners when it comes to property taxes. Nonetheless, the concerns and economic stresses of the average taxpaying family cannot be taken lightly.

An Independence Institute issue brief I wrote last month found that household incomes in the five largest districts proposing tax hikes this year have suffered considerably more than their local school district budgets. For example, in the most recently measured five-year period, Denver Public Schools increased real dollar per-student revenues by nearly 3 percent while the median Denver income dropped 4.4 percent after inflation.

Taxpayers across the metro Denver area and beyond have taken a hard hit from the economic downturn. Last year, Democratic politicians like Senators Rollie Heath and Evie Hudak didn’t exactly feel their pain by pushing a five-year, $3 billion statewide sales and income tax hike. Colorado voters rejected Proposition 103 by a nearly two-to-one margin. The measure won a majority of votes in only three of the state’s 64 counties.

Typically, local education tax proposals have a better chance at crossing the finish line. The benefits may be more tangible, more visible. But last year, Colorado mill levy override and bond elections also crashed and burned in record numbers. More than three out of four were defeated.

Still, the cry for more K-12 funds persists. Three of the four largest school districts (Jefferson CountyDenver, and Cherry Creek) are going back to voters. Among those districts alone, the total combined increase in operating funds and debt sought tops $800 million.

When you look at it that way, even the tough odds of 2011 make the $927,000 in campaign contributions seem like a reasonable investment. But this time around brings out a broader voting base, due to the presidential election. How will the masses respond?

In all, 30 Colorado school districts have placed a combined 37 tax increases on the November 2012 ballot, according to Ed News Colorado. Their rate of success will be one interesting gauge to watch for those interest groups and political leaders most certainly contemplating another statewide education tax measure in 2013.

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