DENVER -- Amendment 66, a major overhaul of education financing that would have provided nearly $1 billion in additional revenue for Colorado schools, was resoundingly defeated Tuesday night, as voters were unwilling to approve the two-tiered income tax necessary to fund the reform model.
The first batch of returns from the Secretary of State's office, released just after polls closed at 7 p.m., showed the measure losing by a two-to-one margin.
With 1.2 million votes counted, Amendment 66 was losing with 66 percent of voters opposed and 34 percent of voters in support.
The Yes on 66 campaign was discouraged at low voter turnout over the weekend, and at polls showing independent voters rejecting the tax increase.
The proposal would have done away with the current 4.63 percent flat income tax rate, replacing it with a 5 percent rate on income up to $75,000 and a 5.9 percent rate on all income above that.
"It's just the wrong time to be asking people to give the government more of their money," one campaign operative told FOX31 Denver, citing the recent focus on problems with the Affordable Care Act and a dysfunctional Congress as reasons why taxpayers might have been unwilling to fund the initiative.
Opponents of Amendment 66 were dramatically outspent -- the Yes on 66 campaign raised more than $10 million overall -- and they're relishing the apparent victory.
“Colorado families spoke loud and clear,” said Kelly Maher, executive director of Compass Colorado. “We need substantive outcome-driven reforms to the educational system before we ask families and small businesses to foot a major tax bill. Governor Hickenlooper has continued his march leftward, and Coloradans have clearly told him today that he’s lost his ‘moderate’ status.
"The proponents spent well in excess of $10 million to market this tax increase to Coloradans and the stunning margins of failure show that never has so much been spent by so few to accomplish so little."
Coupled with the successful recall elections that saw two Democratic state lawmakers booted from office in September, a backlash for their support of controversial gun control laws, Tuesday night's defeat of Amendment 66 makes two defeats in a row for a Democratic machine in Colorado that rarely loses.
"It's not just taxes. It's not just the recalls. Either one is isolated," said Rob Witwer, a former Republican state lawmaker from Evergreen. "Together, it spells backlash to the Democrats' overreach."
The new rates would have meant an additional $950 million annually in school funding, going to full-day kindergarten across the state and to set aside additional per pupil funding for students who don’t speak English or come from poor families.
Even with Colorado ranked near the bottom when it comes to per pupil spending, the tax hike was a tough sell.
The Yes on 66 campaign, thanks to late $1 million contributions from Michael Bloomberg and Bill Gates, has raised more than $10 million to try and convince voters that the proposal means “Big Change, Small Price,” as its television commercials conclude.
Opponents have raised almost nothing to fight Amendment 66, and yet supporters of the measure still believe they’re the ones fighting an uphill battle.
Both sides were nervous Monday night, even slightly pessimistic about their prospects. The Yes on 66 campaign is discouraged that only 847,660 votes have been cast statewide as of Monday morning — they’d hoped to be over 1 million at this point — with registered Republicans having turned in roughly 76,000 more ballots than registered Democrats.