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Colorado Proposition 103 Tax Hike Blue Book: Not Just for Eddie to Color On

A couple days ago my parents received in the mail a little blue booklet. Since most of the things we receive in the mailbox anymore are junk, I was getting ready to decorate it with my crayons when my mom told me to stop. It turns out the “Blue Book” is an election guide from the state of Colorado on a ballot initiative called Proposition 103.

I guess word is out about a misleading pro-103 robo-call (wouldn’t it be cool if it really were a robot calling?). After looking at the “Blue Book,” my mom confirmed that Proposition 103 is a tax increase. She wanted to know why the robo-call doesn’t state that important basic fact. Turns out the “Blue Book” provided some important information. Good thing I hadn’t had a chance to start coloring on it yet.

If you want to dig a little deeper on the only statewide issue this year on the Colorado ballot, doing some math might give you a different opinion than if you just heard the “for the children” speech. (Or if you’re a newspaper editorial board, and heard proposition sponsor Senator Rollie Heath’s pitch.) That’s why you really need to check out Ari Armstrong’s column today in the Grand Junction Free Press, not least of all because he quotes one of my Education Policy Center friends:

Prop. 103 devotes the money to “public education” from preschool through college, taking the 2011-12 budget as the base level. Legislative Council estimates that base at about $4.3 billion (which includes only state funding, not local and federal). Thus, the added taxes would raise state spending by around 12 to 15 percent per year. Of course, how the legislature would adjust education spending absent the tax hike remains anybody’s guess….

Ben DeGrow of the Independence Institute notes, “Since 1970 per-pupil spending in Colorado and the U.S. have more than doubled after counting inflationary changes — even given the real modest freezes and cuts many Colorado K-12 schools have experienced over the past two years.” (Note: Ari has written for the Institute, in one case on a contract basis.)

Coloradans already spend tons of money on education. The NEA recently estimated per-pupil spending here at over $9,500. Education spending already consumes around 37 percent of the state’s total operating budget of $19.6 billion, dwarfing spending for corrections and transportation combined.

What do we get for all that spending? “Adding more tax dollars to K-12 systems on a large scale has no connection to improving academic results,” DeGrow summarizes. As Andrew Coulson reviews for the Cato Institute, as U.S. per-pupil funding has skyrocketed over the last few decades, reading, math, and science scores have virtually flatlined. [links added]

Yes, this isn’t DeGrow’s first time tackling 103. In fact, he was among the very first out there. He debated Senator Heath on 9 News Your Show, and later provided comments for a national radio news story. Education funding facts do make for a strong argument.

But it’s all “for the children,” don’t you know? Doesn’t seem to matter that my parents would have less money to spend around the house, which wouldn’t bode so well for this child. Anyway, it seems my parents have made up their mind about the only issue on the November ballot. They gave me back the blue book to color on. Only question is: What should I draw a picture of?