Hickenlooper helps launch campaign for tax hike to support schools

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DENVER -- Before a crowd of more than 100 supportive education reform advocates, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper helped kick off a three-month campaign in support of an initiative to raise income tax rates in order to generate $950 million annually to fund a new financing plan for public schools.

Initiative 22, which proposes a two-tiered income tax rate hike, will support a number of reforms that will provide more state funding to districts with higher percentages of at-risk students and allow the implementation of full-day kindergarten across the state.

"I refer to this all the time as the single most comprehensive education reform initiative in the history of the United States," Hickenlooper said during a Thursday afternoon event in the parking lot outside Green Mountain High School in Jefferson County.

Under the initiative, Coloradans would pay five percent in taxes on their taxable income up to $75,000 -- a slight increase from the current 4.63 percent rate; additionally, they'd pay a 5.9 percent rate on all taxable income above $75,000.

"We're one of the lowest tax states in the country," Hickenlooper said. "We're the third lowest; if we pass this, we'll be the eighth lowest."

Hickenlooper, who first announced his support for the initiative to a group of business leaders last month, told reporters after the event that the new School Financing Act passed by the legislature earlier this year includes accountability measures to assure taxpayers that the additional dollars are reaching the classroom and getting results.

"One of the things this does is it turns every school superintendent into a CEO," Hickenlooper said. "There's going to be transparency, accountability, very stiff measurements on outcomes on how this money is spent."

Across the street from the school, Coloradans for Real Education Reform, a group of opponents to the tax hike, set up a table covered with $250 worth of school supplies, an effort to demonstrate what the proposed tax hike would be costing families.

"This economic recovery is fragile, families are still struggling and this just isn't the time for a billion dollar-a-year tax hike," said Kelly Maher, the group's director.

"The median Colorado family will be paying over $250 a year in additional taxes. These are the school supplies that could be purchased by that family if only that tax increase doesn't pass."

State Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, the former school teacher and principal who helped craft the new financing plan, scoffed at that notion.

"I've bought some backpacks for my kids, and after a year they fall apart and I've got a new one," Johnston said. "What we're talking about are investments that actually last -- investments in full-day kindergarten, early-childhood education, investments in extended school days and years are what prevent the losses and the achievement gaps and the dropout rates.

"We're trying to make investments in the things that last the longest, and those are the education a child gets."