Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pain may favor a tax hike come November

Carol Hedges figures Colorado voters will be ready for a tax hike by November once they begin to feel the  pain of longer lines at motor-vehicle offices, closed parks, crowded first-grade classrooms and much higher tuition at colleges across the state.

That's just some of the pain that will be inflicted starting July 1 when budget cuts being debated in the state House of Representatives yesterday and today are imposed on Colorado taxpayers.

Carol Hedges

"People don't always make the connections" between legislative budget debates in the spring and public-sector service cutbacks in summer and fall when budget cuts are implemented, Hedges said.

That's why she thinks a proposed initiative to raise taxes to restore state funding to state colleges and public schools will be "ripe" for passage come November's statewide general election.

That's also why Hedges believes Gov. John Hickenlooper and others are misreading the 2011 chances for voter approval of a tax hike in November. And that state Sen. Rollie Heath's announced plan to ask voters to raise the state's sales tax and their own state income taxes has a chance to win voter approval.

Hedges is project director of the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, a unit of the Colorado Center on Law and Policy,  a local think tank and advocacy group that seeks "justice and economic security for all Coloradans." I wrote about Hedges here last June after her group suggested the state's tax burden isn't as heavy as Colorado Republicans persistently whine about.

She told a small gathering of center supporters this week that Colorado taxes "as a percentage of income ranks us as 49th in the country" for tax burdens on citizens.

Heath's proposal would raise the state income-tax rate from 4.63 percent to 5 percent of taxable income, and the state sales tax from 2.9 percent to 3 percent, and apply all revenues generated by the increases to education funding, where the state also ranks at the bottom among states.

"Everyone says that you have to show people real impact, personal pain, individual harm or implications," Hedges says of any proposed tax increase. She said cuts in this state budget, when it goes into effect, will offer Colorado voters the "gravest" proof ever of the need to raise state taxes.

Heath's initiative, which has not yet cleared any of the hurdles in terms of title and language to be presented to voters, will also need petition signatures of thousands of voters to make the ballot. Voters should be feeling the impact of this spring's budget cuts just about the time petition volunteers will be asking for those signatures, and certainly the state's college students will know by then how much their tuition bills will have been increased.

The Colorado Center on Law and Policy is expected to take an official position on the initiative "soon." If Hedges can convince her colleagues the time is right for an up or down vote of the people on state college funding look for the petition circulators in front of your local grocery store. 

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