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Heath Launches Effort To Raise Taxes For Schools

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Sen. Rollie Heath on Monday (credit: CBS)

Sen. Rollie Heath on Monday (credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – A Democratic state senator is moving forward with a ballot initiative to raise Colorado’s income and sales taxes, saying Monday that the hikes will collect about $3 billion during five years to fund the state’s beleaguered education budget.

Backed by a class of fourth-graders at the state Capitol, Boulder Sen. Rollie Heath conceded the business community’s muscle is not behind him yet. But he said he would start the process of collecting signatures and raising money to let voters decide on the tax hike in November. The campaign would be driven by concerned parents and grandparent, Heath said.

“This is going to be, I would hope, the greatest grass-roots effort that this state has seen. This is not going to be one that’s driven by big business or labor or anything else,” he said.

Heath is proposing to raise the sales and use tax rate to 3 percent, up from 2.9 percent. He also wants to raise the state’s individual and corporate tax rates to 5 percent, up from 4.63 percent.

The increases would be in effect from 2012 to 2017 and the money collected would go to kindergarten to 12th grade funding and colleges.

“Simply put, cutting schools and colleges is moving Colorado in the wrong direction. And just when you’re driving your car in the wrong direction, the longer you wait to do a U-turn, the longer it takes back to get where you need to be,” said Laura McDonald, Longmont mother who spoke in support of the initiative.

Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton said the fact that Heath is going to the ballot proves he has no support at the Legislature, which concluded the 2011 session last week.

“I think he chose to have it on the Monday after the legislative session ended because he knows there’s no support for this initiative in the state,” Stapleton said.

The ballot proposal, which will be known as Initiative 25, would be a tax increase of $163 annually for a family with a yearly income of $55,700, Heath said. That amount is still detrimental for struggling families and businesses, Stapleton said.

Because it’s one of the biggest parts of the budget, Colorado’s education has seen big cuts in recent years as lawmakers deal with the Great Recession. For the next fiscal year that starts in July, K-12 funding faces a cut of about $227 million. And lawmakers say they’ll have to cut education again the following fiscal year.

“I will say to all of you, we can’t tolerate that anymore,” Heath said.

He will need to collect more than 76,000 signatures from Colorado’s 3.2 million registered voters to put the proposal on the ballot.

Kate Horle, spokeswoman for the Denver Chamber of Commerce, said the organization is not supporting or opposing the tax increase.

- By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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