Rollie Heath Is Not Afraid

As the Colorado Independent’s Scot Kersgaard reports this morning:

He’s been talking about it since early in the just finished legislative session, but State Senator Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, Monday launched his campaign to raise Colorado taxes in order to better fund education.

“I just think that investing in education is the best way out of the situation we’re in,” Heath said, referring to the limping economy.

His proposal, which will go on the ballot in November as initiative 25 (pdf) if he is successful in gathering the needed signatures, would raise state sales taxes from 2.9% to 3.0% and would raises state corporate and personal income taxes from 4.63% to 5.0%. Both increases would stay in place for five years…

Heath said the state cannot afford to do nothing, having cut K-12 education by about $200 million this year and knowing that the state will probably be looking at additional cuts next year.

“I know this is just a bandage but we have to stop the bleeding,” he said.

In March, it was reported that Sen. Rollie Heath’s measure would not have a so-called “sunset provision,” a change made in response to legislation that would have made future ballot measures more difficult to pass. Since that legislation failed, Heath reinstated the sunset.

But what Sen. Heath is proposing, sunset or no, is nothing more than a return to tax rates that were in effect before cuts passed under Republican Gov. Bill Owens in 1999 and 2000. There’s already a wacky wall of chaff going up from the right wing over this, but it’s very difficult to make a concrete argument that 1999 tax rates were harmful to the economy. We don’t buy the axiomatic correlation of low taxes and economic growth to begin with, but you certainly can’t back that theory up by looking at Colorado’s economy since these taxes were cut.

The other fact that frequently gets lost in this discussion is this: Colorado’s total tax burden on residents is significantly below the national average in every category–sales tax, property tax, business tax, and income tax. The line between Colorado’s low tax rates and chronic inability to pay for every kind of essential service is so easy to draw, so much more so than many other states, that we’re continually surprised at how difficult it seems to be to convince people to do the really obvious thing you need to do to fix the problem here.

See that? In two paragraphs, we just explained why Sen. Heath’s initiative is necessary, and how objections to it can be fairly effortlessly demolished. It seems easy to us, but whether that translates into the kind of broad institutional support for Sen. Heath’s ballot measure that would be needed to pass it remains to be seen. There is no finer testament to the courage of a public servant than his willingness to stand alone at a podium and say what needs to be said, what so many are thinking but don’t have the courage to say–like Sen. Heath did yesterday.

But for this to work, courage from others will be needed.

UPDATE: More commentary here.

34 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. AmyCO says:

    The uber-conservative Douglas County School Board is asking taxpayers for help in paying for schools, so it is possible for the right to see the connection between money and the provision of services.  However, I’m pessimistic that either this or the school board’s initiative will meet with much success.  People are still suffering economically, which makes it much easier to buy into the notion that spending cuts are the answer to all.  Sound bite over substance will win this debate.

    • MADCO says:

      No – they are planning to add to their state PPF by counting kids in the October count who are not enrolled nor attending a DCSD school. Then the kids’ family gets 75% of that PPF, to give to their kid’s school, and the DSCSD gets to keep the other 25%.

      So the way they sold it to DC voters was – it costs us nothing, in fact it costs us less since we’ll have fewer kids in DCSD schools, and we get 25% of the state PPF in “profit.”

      Further, but mysteriously, they answered questions about potential litigation expenses  with won’t cost us anything, we have a source

      Voter conclusion:  Hmm, it costs us nothing, in fact we get more revenue form the state, other CO taxpayers are paying for it, and we’re safely covered ont he lawyer side. Sure, what’s not to love?

  2. Go Raiders* says:

    Can’t we just fix this by raising the cigarette tax?  

    That was your solution to every problem when you ran for governor against Bill Owens.

  3. Ellie says:

    Curious… guess I could look it up.

    • JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:


      In September 1999, Gov. Bill Owens announced that the TABOR surplus for 1999-2000 was $941.1 million, and that taxpayers would get average refunds of $267 each. That same year, the state income tax rate was reduced from 5 percent to 4.75 percent; the following year it was reduced again, to 4.63 percent, both as acts of the General Assembly. The reduction in the sales tax took place at the same time, along with a number of other tax-cutting proposals.

      • BlueCat says:

        I’d sure rather have $267 than decent schools. Especially if I could put that $267 and a voucher towards tuition at a private school which should only cost me several to many thousands more out of my own pocket and only If I get lucky and win the lottery for places.  Hmmm… not much help there.  Maybe I could use it for the deductible on repairs incurred driving on lousy roads. But hey, it’s “free” money right?  And that much per person plus  a little more in tax cuts is bound to create loads of great new jobs, right?  Seen any lately?

  4. Say Hey Kid says:

    Standing all by himself.

    Must have reminded him of his race for Governor when Tom Strickland wouldn’t go near him.

    Rollie should put his money where his mouth is or just keep it shut.  Rollie famously promised to self fund his race for Governor than changed his mind.  

  5. cunninjo says:

    While i support increasing taxes to support education, limiting it to five years simply kicks the can down the road. Just like Ref C, this would last long enough for school districts to adjust to the new revenue before falling off yet another financial cliff in 5 years.

    If you’re going to put in all the effort and money to run an initiative campaign why not make it something worthwhile? Make it permanent.

    I’ll have a hard time supporting anything that fails to offer a long-term solution to the school funding crisis.  

    • MADCO says:

      TABOR/Amendment 23/Gallagher in any meaningful way.

      It is not a solution. It’s a stop gap – it’s a band aid on a broken bone while we’re getting the patent to the ER where we can fix things.

      Paramedica to injured crash victim: I’m pretty sure you have broken bones, along with some bleeding.  SInce I don’t have an exray machine or any way to set the bones, we’re going to wait until we do to try and tend the bleeding.

      just saying

      • cunninjo says:

        I thought Ref C was the band aid on the way to the ER. At some point you have to actually fix the broken bone. I feel like as long as we keep praising people like Sen. Heath for these stop gaps, they’ll just keep proposing them because it serves their personal political interests.

        It’s time we demand real leadership!

        • Middle of the Road says:

          It serves Heath’s “personal political interests”? Really? How? He’s going out on a limb that few other Democrats have been willing to do for years. Have you noticed the complete silence on the Democratic aisle on this one? What he’s proposing takes political courage, whether you agree with his idea or not.

          I get that you would like to see a long term solution instead of a five year fix. You’ve made that point ad nausem. But when you start asserting that this is a gutless move, you’re out of your league and frankly, making shit up.  

          • Gray in the mountains says:

            he just wants those kids to get an education. Is that selfish enough for you?

          • cunninjo says:

            Remember where Sen. Heath lives. He’s in one of the most liberal districts in the state. He’s not risking anything. He just wants people to praise him for ‘fighting for the kids’. In reality, he has proposed a very simple-minded tax increase that will result in only a small increase in funding per student and may be the only chance progressives get at increasing taxes in the not-so-near future. Did he put any thought into this at all?

            People are silent on the initiative because it’s minimal impact isn’t worth spending what little political capital exists for increasing taxes.

            If we are going to get serious about protecting the kids, let’s do something serious.  

  6. Automaticftp says:

    Until then, our K-12 schools will be a disaster.

  7. bjwilson83 says:

    is to not spend more than you have. However, kudos to a Democrat for finally being up front about a tax increase instead of just breaking the bank with spending first and then expecting everyone to pay for your misdeeds. Good to know he’s not seeking any higher office.

    • If the state were to magically start taking in more revenue – say, through a tax hike approved by the voters – then you’d be okay with spending it, since the state obviously has the cash?

      • bjwilson83 says:

        But we all know that’s not what happens. Dems put a tax increase on the ballot under the guise of some program no one can say no to – “lollipops for terminally ill children”, etc. Then, the moment they get the money, the raid the funds for their own dastardly purposes. Needless to say, the kids don’t get the lollipops.

        • AristotleAristotle says:

          These tax increases always – get ready for this – specify the programs on which the revenues fund.

          You see, beej, there’s this thing called the “law.” If the GA asks for money at the ballot, they say what it’s for, and if the voters pass it, it becomes law that the funds raise be spent on that, and not on anything else.

          As always, you’re free to provide some evidence of a time that “Dems put a tax increase on the ballot under the guise of some program no one can say no to… then … raid[ed] the funds for their own dastardly purposes.” After all, if you believe that’s what happened, it’s only because it actually happened in the past, right?

          And keep in mind that we’re talking about Colorado, and ONLY Colorado.

          You think you can do that?

    • redstateblues says:

      Beej, be honest. Did you know who Rollie Heath was before trolling this diary?

    • AristotleAristotle says:

      You know how our old Republican governor paid for T-REX, don’t you? (Hint: it wasn’t from taxes or the savings from spending cuts.)

        • AristotleAristotle says:

          The point is, your one sided view of things is incorrect. Republicans are the ones who spend money they don’t have. Democrats work with what they can get, but Republicans borrow and mortgage the state’s future.

          And before you lose track of the conversation and start talking about the feds, keep in mind that this discusion is only about the state of Colorado.

  8. Chri Of A.T. says:

    We may have well educated children, but where will the jobs be when the graduate????

    • BlueCat says:

      I suppose the same place as the lower prices we’re paying at the pump because of those subsidies we’re paying the oil companies. Or the increasing number of jobs the oil industry has been creating as their profits have increased over recent years.  Or the increased number of great jobs produced during the past decade as a result of the Bush tax cuts for the job producing rich.  Perhaps in an alternate universe? One where and cutting revenues really does mean increasing them and trickle down doesn’t just mean peeing on our legs and telling us it’s raining.    

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