Proposition 103’s Shellacking: Go Big or Go Home?

There’s no sugar coating it, and the Durango Herald makes no attempt:

Proposition 103, a state senator’s improbable campaign to convince voters to raise taxes statewide for education, failed Tuesday by a 2-to-1 margin.

Backers conceded defeat an hour after polls closed. Prop 103 failed 36 percent to 64 percent, with nearly all precincts reporting. The measure was losing in every large county in the state except Boulder. Even Denver, where voters often are willing to raise taxes, handed the measure a lopsided defeat. State Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, wrote Prop 103 after Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed record cuts to schools last spring.

“We had hoped people were ready to stand up,” Heath said. “Clearly they weren’t. But let’s hope that we all come together to solve the problems because they aren’t going to go away, and we’ve got to do this for our kids.”

In the end, despite the hope from proponents of Proposition 103 that their small-scale labors were making an impact, there were never anywhere near the resources needed to win invested in this campaign. The $600,000 raised by opponents is a drop in the bucket compared to 2005’s multimillion-dollar Referendum C operation. No ballot chase of the scale required to win was ever organized, and no ad campaign to overcome the natural voter disinclination to a tax increase was ever funded. In addition, there appears to have been a larger degree of ambivalence toward Proposition 103 from “progressive” Democrats, who believed that it was an insufficient solution to a bigger problem, than proponents had anticipated.

Of course, the biggest reason that none of the resources needed to win were available to the Proposition 103 campaign was the lack of help from key players like Gov. John Hickenlooper, which might well have precipitated broader support. Hickenlooper has maintained throughout the election that his pledge to stay away from tax increases in his first year in office prevented him from supporting Proposition 103. While some proponents are upset with Hickenlooper this morning, the measure’s lopsided defeat ensures he will not suffer politically for his decision.

Bottom line: Proposition 103 didn’t prove that a tax increase election in Colorado is impossible, any more than 2005’s Referendum C proved they can easily be won. The lesson of Proposition 103 is that you can’t do these things without help. The epilogue to this story, of course, is the additional $97 million in cuts to public schools proposed in Hickenlooper’s budget yesterday. Those cuts come on top of the hundreds of millions cut from public education in recent years.

Safe to say, Proposition 103 will not be the last chance to show some leadership.

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  1. ArapaGOP says:

    In the Herald’s story:

    Penn Pfiffner, head of the opposition campaign Too Taxing for Colorado, said voters are tired of putting more money into schools without seeing better results.

    “Clearly we dodged a bullet that would have hurt the economy, but now is the time to try to change how we deliver education,” Pfiffner said.

    Pfiffner, too, said his group’s campaign should not end on election night, and Prop 103’s defeat should be an occasion for “sober reflection” about the public-education system and ways to revamp it without pushing more money into it.

    This is the “conversation” the voters are telling us to have. I can only hope the Democrats in the legislature will be able to put aside their rigid demands and work together with conservatives for a real solution. Everybody wants what is best for our kids.

    • Aristotle says:

      … that the issue wasn’t “more money for education.” It was, “we’ve lost money for education, so let’s try to recover it.”

      30+ years of anti-tax propaganda has done its job.

    • Republican 36 says:

      The higher education budget for Colorado was around $550 million in 1989. This year the budget is $519 million and it will go down more when the next round of cuts are announced. The dollar today is worth about 56 cents of what a dollar was worth in 1989 so today’s higher education budget is, in 1989 dollars, around $240 million.

      Today we expect college students at our public colleges and universities to pick-up two thirds of the cost. About three years ago the state picked-up two thirds of the costs.

      This Fall for the first time there are more students from Colorado matriculating at the Univeristy of Wyoming than there are students form Wyoming because it is much cheaper for Colorado students to attend there than here.

      We haven’t been spending more money on higher education in this state. We have been spending far less and the results are obvious. We are pricing our own citizens out of the ability to obtain a degree even though all of the economic models point to the fact that within ten years 70% of the jobs in our state will require a bachelors or associates degree.

      Thinking in the one dimensional mode of always cutting taxes and everything is going to be all right is a useless fantasy.

      • DavidThi808 says:

        I was at a high-tech meeting last night and at the start they asked if there were any announcements. About 30 people announced 42 job openings. These are good jobs that pay well with good working conditions. Jobs that a qualified candidate will be hired for tomorrow. And this was one small meeting in Boulder that had nothing to do with jobs (it was to show some new technology).

        For the high tech industry the lack of qualified candidates for jobs is by far the single biggest limiting factor for companies growth. (My company estimates that if we had two more experienced sales reps we would easily double sales.)

        So yes, this is a giant problem. All the way from kids who drop out or get a poor education in K-12 to ones who don’t go to College.

    • DavidThi808 says:

      What do you call SB-191? That passed with votes from both sides and was written and carried by a Democrat. If you can’t admit to this effort then you truly are nothing but a partisan hack with no interest in addressing our issues.

      • Gray in Mountains says:

        by, I believe Sen. Michael Johnston and Rep. Christine Scanlan wrote it, will make some improvements. But, it can’t address all the funding issues that R36 points out above

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