It's refreshing to see Coloradans tackle a problem and work toward a solution. That's what we witnessed today when supporters turned in more than 142,000 signatures for a ballot proposal that would raise $536 million each year through 2016 to halt steep cuts to education.
Imagine that – actually raising millions of dollars for K-12 and higher education. This, of course, comes after years of cutting millions from education.
If enough signatures are ruled valid, voters will get a chance to weigh in on this important issue in November. And it is thanks to a grass-roots army of supporters who fanned out across the state and carefully explained a problem. They offered a solution, and Coloradans responded.
"This is a very impressive showing," said Wade Buchanan, president of the Bell Policy Center, which endorsed the Bright Colorado initiative. "We expect the measure to make the ballot, and now our job is to convince Colorado voters this is the right thing to do for our state and our children. We believe that when Colorado voters learn the facts about their schools and colleges and universities, they will choose to support this measure.
"We urge everyone who cares about Colorado's future to join the campaign," said Buchanan. People can learn more and sign up to help at www.brightcolorado.com.
State Sen. Rollie Heath launched the Bright Colorado ballot proposal in May, after the legislature made the latest in a series of deep cuts to K-12 and higher education. Spending reductions for K-12 have totaled nearly $600 million over the past three years. And General Fund support per college student has been cut almost in half over the past decade (adjusted for inflation).
"Doing nothing in the face of these horrible budget cuts is just not an option," Heath said at the time.
Heath was joined by Great Ed Colorado, the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute and many other organizations in a true grass-roots petition drive. They relied heavily on volunteers to gather signatures - moms and dads, community leaders, activists and others who recognize the importance of having adequate school funding and a well-educated workforce.
Under Proposition 103, as the proposal will likely appear on the ballot, Colorado will temporarily return state tax rates to 1999 levels. Heath calls his proposal a "five year timeout from education cuts," saying it will buy time for the state to search for a more permanent solution to its long-term structural deficit.
Colorado's sales tax rate would rise from 2.9% to 3.0%, and the personal and corporate income tax rates will increase from 4.63% to 5.0%. Some of the funds raised will prevent further cuts, and the remainder will restore cuts from the past few years.
"We thank State Senator Rollie Heath for his leadership in moving this measure forward," said Scott Martinez, president of the Bell's board of directors. "By signing petitions, Coloradans have shown an inspiring commitment to students and education. That is good for them, for our economy and our entire state. Well done.''