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Op-Ed: The Progressive Case Against Proposition EE

Op-Ed: The Progressive Case Against Proposition EE
WFP

All taxes are not created equal, and that has never been more clear than it is on the 2020 ballot. The Working Families Party (WFP) believes that taxes are vital to fund social services in our state, and we routinely resist austerity measures and public-service cuts here and around the country. However, we believe just as deeply in progressive taxation — which is the simple, common-sense idea that those with the most means should have the highest obligation to support their fellow Coloradans.

This is why we strongly supported the Fair Tax measure that sadly, thanks to the onset of the pandemic, was not able to gather enough signatures to make the ballot. Proposition EE, unfortunately, takes us in the other direction — increasing the burden of taxation on those who can least afford to pay — and therefore does not deserve our support this November.

Proposition EE is a $294 million “sin tax” on nicotine and tobacco products. The funds go directly into the State General Fund, with a promise they will be used to fund education and, eventually, universal preschool in Colorado. We agree with the Governor that preschool is critically important for working families across the state. However, Prop EE is a deeply regressive tax that impacts those with the least amount of resources the most. There are also structural problems with this proposed tax.

First, tobacco is a declining revenue source. Second, 14 percent of Coloradans smoke, and the vast majority of them are lower-income. So why would we put the cost of universal preschool on the backs of those who can least afford it? Third, there is no guarantee that this money will ever get to preschool. Nothing in the ballot language requires the legislature to fund it, and the way the bill is written, preschool is last in line to get any funding.

Colorado’s education funding is a travesty — we rank in the bottom fifth of states on education spending per pupil in every study in recent memory. We have seen how austerity in education generally, and the devaluing of educators specifically, led to a massive wave of teacher strikes across the country, including in Denver. WFP stands unequivocally in solidarity with those educators on the front lines, and their deep need for increased education funding. However, we reject the cynicism that leads some of our state’s leaders to claim that the only viable way to raise this revenue is by piling yet more burden on the backs of our state’s already struggling working families, rather than finding the political will to tax the wealthy and corporations that could much more easily fill these yawning gaps.

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The pandemic turned our world upside down, including the work of the Colorado Legislature. We understand, and deeply feel ourselves, the need to backfill lost funds in our state budget, as well as the urgency the legislature must have felt to pass any bill to try and mitigate the damage COVID-19 has done to the Colorado economy. We believe the governor and the legislature had good intentions, but we disagree fundamentally with the impact of this proposed new tax.

We believe we can adequately fund education and expand preschool access without placing the burden on Colorado’s working families. The Working Families Party will enthusiastically support a fair and equitable education tax when the state legislature (or the citizenry) puts one on the ballot. Unfortunately, Proposition EE is not it, and we therefore must urge a No vote on EE this November.

Wendy Howell is the acting state director of the Colorado Working Families Party.

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