Colorado's Progressive Tax Reformers Will Push 2020 Initiative

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A coalition of liberal groups that has battled for years to overhaul Colorado's tax code just unveiled its latest proposal — and put to rest any speculation that it might target a full repeal of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

Fair Tax Colorado, an issue committee registered earlier this week with the Colorado Secretary of State's Office, announced today, March 5, that it will move forward with collecting signatures for Initiative 271, a ballot measure that would raise the state's income tax rate on Coloradans making over $250,000 a year, and give a small tax cut to everyone else.

"There's a lot of need in Colorado right now for a lot of different things," says Lizeth Chacon, director of the Colorado People's Alliance, an advocacy group backing the initiative. "The economy has been strong, but a lot of folks in our community have been left behind. And so this measure is going to give a tax cut to 95 percent of Coloradans, and it's going to guarantee funding for schools and teachers."

If approved by voters, the measure would raise an estimated $2 billion annually and require half of that to be spent on K-12 education, with the other half "used to address the impacts of a growing population and a changing economy," according to ballot language finalized by the state Title Board this week.

"A lot of our communities and families know that there's a desperate need for more funding to go into our school systems," Chacon says. "But I also think that this measure, by leaving the other 50 percent open to address growth, it allows us to engage and lobby our elected our officials to say, 'This is where this money needs to go.'"

Initiative 271 is one of dozens of measures submitted to the Title Board over the last year by Carol Hedges, director of the Colorado Fiscal Institute, as she and other advocates fine-tuned their latest attempt to alleviate Colorado's budget crunch. Supporters of reform measures collaborated under the banner of Vision 2020 Colorado, a coalition that includes CFI, COPA, the Bell Policy Center and other liberal and progressive groups.

"We've been doing a lot of work for a lot of years to, first, educate folks about our tax system and engage folks in conversations about what's needed," Chacon says. "It's something that has been on our minds for years, to really try to figure out how we make our tax system fair."

One of the initiatives tested by Hedges and other advocates even sought a full repeal of TABOR, a 1992 constitutional amendment that includes a requirement that voters approve all state and local tax increases and other restrictions on governments' ability to raise new revenue. While TABOR opponents scored a win last year when the Colorado Supreme Court, reversing years of prior decisions, ruled that such a repeal effort could proceed, advocates won't be moving forward with it for now.

Instead, backers hope that Initiative 271 can end a string of electoral defeats for Colorado tax reformers in recent years, including the failure of Proposition CC, a measure that would have eliminated TABOR's yearly revenue caps but was soundly defeated at the ballot box last year. Amendment 73, which would have raised $1.6 billion to fund education through tax hikes on corporations, property owners and high-income earners, was also rejected by voters in 2018.

Like previous efforts, the new measure is likely to draw strong opposition from such anti-tax groups as Americans for Prosperity, the nonprofit funded by conservative billionaire Charles Koch. But supporters are confident that the initiative, which would mean a smaller tax bill for 95 percent of Coloradans, can win approval from voters.

"This is a measure to finally make our tax code fair, and there hasn't been a measure like this on the ballot before," says Chacon. "We're excited to be able to engage with voters in a conversation about what our tax system should look like."

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