Colorado Schools Keep Raising Funds from Property Taxes

My report for the Independence Institute on Governor Ritter’s tax-raising proposal to fund new education programs is officially released today. Here is the summary:

On March 12, 2007, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter proposed the “Colorado Children’s Amendment,” a plan to spend $84 million to expand preschool and kindergarten programs. To free state money to fund the programs, he proposed a mill levy rate “freeze” that would shift some of the school funding burden to local sources. On April 10, the governor revised the plan—offering tax relief to property owners in 33 school districts while creating higher property tax bills in 104 districts. The annual revenue estimate for the plan’s new version is $55 million.

State analysts argue the property tax increase would be legal. The proposal nevertheless clearly violates the spirit of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). Moreover, voters have strongly resisted plans to raise local property taxes to fund statewide programs.

An examination of statewide revenue data shows education funding grew significantly in the first four years after Amendment 23 mandated annual K-12 spending increases, as follows:

  • Colorado school districts received 15.6 percent more per student in state dollars
  • Colorado school districts received 11.6 percent more per student in total dollars
  • Colorado school districts received 50 percent of revenues from local sources in 2005, down from 53 percent in 2001

From 2001 to 2005, Colorado schools also received 8.5 percent more per student in property tax dollars. Out of 176 school districts:

  • 103 districts, representing three-fourths of the state’s public school students, received more property tax dollars per student
  • 20 districts increased per-pupil property tax revenues by 30 percent or more
  • Only 10 districts lost 20 percent or more in per-pupil property tax revenues

The “Colorado Children’s Amendment” is a one-size-fits-all proposal that raises taxes unevenly depending on a property owner’s district of residence to pay for new statewide education priorities. If voters in a particular school district wish to pay more property taxes to fund local schools, they should be asked specifically and directly first.

Meanwhile, Colorado Republican lawmakers – in near unanimous opposition to the proposal – have pressed the Governor to look at other ways to reform the state’s school finance structure besides adding to the property tax burden of owners in select school districts. Privatizing the lottery and boosting revenue from School Trust Land are among their ideas. More to come on this later …

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