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Sen. Heath Touts Education Funding Measure While Republicans Raise Questions

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Standing alongside parents and a fourth graders in the State Capitol, Democratic State Senator Heath announced his plan on Monday to help backfill millions of dollars in recent education cuts.

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kunc/local-kunc-969052.mp3“In my mind for too long we’ve accepted being near the bottom in funding our schools. And the budget cuts we’ve made have made a bad situation worse,” he said. “I would say to all of you, we can’t tolerate that anymore.”

If approved by voters, the ballot measure could bring in an estimated $3 billion between 2012 and 2017, when it would expire. The idea is to raise the money through modest increases in the state’s sales and income taxes.

“I am here today because I fear for my kids and Colorado kids’ education if we don’t do something immediately to stop cuts,” said mom Laura McDonald, who drove down from Longmont for the announcement.

The effort comes right after the state legislature cut $227 million from K-12 schools in an effort to balance its budget. Higher education will lose $125 million next year. Heath emphasized the ballot measure is a “tourniquet” that would temporarily stop the bleeding, not the ultimate solution. For some lawmakers, that would come from a larger overhaul of Colorado’s tax code.

But not everyone is for tax increases. State Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp and other Republicans immediately blasted Heath’s proposal on Monday, arguing that the measure would hinder economic recovery in Colorado.

“We’re not going to make it better by trying to fix one side of the equation because what we’re going to do it make it more difficult for job creators to hire that extra employee,” he said.

When Heath’s proposal was floated during this past legislative session, Republicans and even some Democrats said a tax increase with the economy still struggling would be a no-go among Colorado voters. 

In Old Town Square in downtown Fort Collins, the idea doesn’t work for Theresa McIntyre, who says she’s feeling tax fatigue.

“We’ve had way too many taxes. This is a ridiculous administration, the way they go through money,” she said.

But Lee Rivers says he would support a tax increase for education. A recent Colorado State University grad, he’s playing with his two nieces by a fountain.

“I think it would be worth it, for helping k-12 and higher education, I think it’s sort of our future, so a marginal increase in taxes would only help in the long run,” he said.

CSUand the University of Colorado met the ballot proposal with silence on Monday. A spokesperson for CU told KUNC the university will stay neutral, and CSU did not release a statement by late yesterday.

For his part, State Senator Rollie Heath says he’s optimistic that the measure will at least go before voters.  And he brushed off suggestions that the apparent cool stance from higher education and the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce will be a setback.  

“We’ve basically got the stage to ourselves,” he said. “Hence one of the real reasons why I did it this year, in addition to feeling very strongly that we can’t wait another year.”

Whether or not voters agree with Heath remains to be seen. Proponents will need to gather the required signatures to get the measure in front of voters next fall.

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