Hickenlooper quietly announces support for school tax hike initiative

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Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper spoke to CNN Sunday about the slaying of DOC director Tom Clements.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, vetoed two bills Friday, the first time he's used the veto pen since 2012.

DENVER — There was no official press release, no carefully-crafted statement — just, as there so often is, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and a microphone.

On Wednesday morning, speaking to a breakfast meeting of the Colorado Forum, a group of business leaders, Hickenlooper did what he’s been unable or unwilling to do when pressed by reporters on the looming ballot initiative that will ask voters to approve a two-tiered income tax hike this fall to generate $950 million for Colorado schools.

He came out with a clear position — in support of Initiative 22, which was just announced last month.

“The governor has been talking to business leaders about how transformative the new school finance law will be for Colorado kids,” said Alan Salazar, Hickenlooper’s chief strategist, in a text message to FOX31 confirming accounts from other sources who heard Hickenlooper’s remarks Wednesday.

Salazar called Hickenlooper’s support for the proposal, however tacit, “probably the worst kept secret in town.”

During the legislative session, lawmakers approved Senate Bill 213, a massive overhaul of Colorado’s school finance law. The legislation mandates a base level of per-pupil funding for all school districts and ensures that dollars follow students to their schools; it also adds additional funding to disadvantaged districts to bring struggling students up to par and would fund full-day kindergarten and increase support for at-risk students.

But none of those reforms will be put in place unless voters approve the looming tax hike to fund the changes.

“The only way to move on these reforms is to go to voters this year,” Salazar continued.

Colorado’s current income tax rate is a flat 4.63 percent for everyone regardless of income.

Initiative 22, which was rolled out last month, would set a flat tax rate of 5 percent for all income of less than $75,000 a year.

But the proposal for those earning more than that would see their income taxed at two different rates: the 5 percent flat rate for income up to $75,000 annually and then a 5.9 percent rate for all earnings above that threshold.

Hickenlooper offered his broad support for the reform plan and the necessary revenue increase when he signed the bill, but, until Wednesday, had not formally endorsed the specific tax hike that’ll be on the ballot.

Colorado Commits to Kids, the group pushing the measure, will need to gather valid signatures from 86,105 Colorado voters in order to qualify for the November ballot.

The deadline to submit petitions is 3:00 p.m. on Aug. 5.

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