Despite skepticism from Republican lawmakers who help write the state’s budget, a proposal to ask voters to set a uniform tax on personal property to increase school funding is still alive.
The legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, made up of three Republicans and three Democrats, agreed Tuesday to keep the proposal on its list of possible legislation for this session. For a bill to be sponsored by the committee, it must have unanimous support.
Currently, school districts have little power over how much local tax revenue they can collect. Some districts are fully funded by their local property taxes, while others heavily depend on the state. If voters went along with the request, schools could see by one estimate a $300 million increase in revenue.
Sen. Kent Lambert, a Manitou Springs Republican and chairman of the committee, said he didn’t believe there would be enough votes in either chamber to put the proposal on a future ballot. For lawmakers to refer a question to voters, two-thirds of both chambers must support it.
Lambert said he believed, at the least, the committee and its staff could produce more information to inform the broader school funding debate.
“It’s an important element of it,” he said, referring to rethinking how local tax dollars are used to fund the state’s schools. “But it isn’t the whole solution.”
Supporters of the idea, especially Reps. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican, and Millie Hamner, a Frisco Democrat, believe the state’s current formula to fund schools is unfair.
“We’re funding some kids at $25,000 and some at $7,000,” Rankin said. “That’s just not right.”
Sen. Kevin Lundberg, a Berthoud Republican, said he worries low-income families in wealthier parts of the state could see their property taxes jump under the proposed change.
“I have a deep concern that as we set a system to address one inequity over here, we’ll create another one over there,” he said.
Colorado’s tax and school funding policies are complicated. A mix of constitutional amendments approved by voters and other legislation leaves lawmakers with few options to change how much money schools receive.
The state is often criticized for ranking near the bottom in state funding for students. This year, many observers forecast the state’s education funding shortfall, which sits about about $830 million, will jump to about $1 billion.
Rethinking the way the state funds its schools emerged as a central issue in speeches from leaders of both political parties and Gov. John Hickenlooper in the session’s opening week.