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Proposition 103's Rollie Heath thinks education tax vote will be very close

Tomorrow, voters will be asked to weigh in on Proposition 103, which would hike taxes to raise money for schools.

Senator Rollie Heath, the measure's most familiar proponent, is unwilling to predict victory. But he believes the vote will be "very, very close" -- and he's optimistic about the measure's chances based on conversations he's had with voters statewide.

"This has gotten further than I ever would have dreamed as far as the momentum behind it," Heath says. "And I'm hearing good things wherever I go."

Of course, "what else are people going to say to me?" he concedes, laughing.

As originally explained on the campaign's website, the measure would raise Colorado sales tax from 2.9 percent to 3 percent, and its personal and corporate tax from 4.63 percent to 5 percent -- rates that would remain in place for five years. The site says these numbers correspond to tax levels "throughout the economic boom of the 1990s."

Proposition 103 would generate an estimated $536 million per annum toward public education funding, with the cost for a taxpayer making $55,700 being around $150 a year, according to the site.

A tax increase during an economic downturn is a tough sell -- but Heath's baby has still managed to earn a lot of love. He points to a long list of endorsements from school boards and like institutions, as well as positive editorials by a wide range of newspapers, including the Aspen Daily News, the Northern Colorado Business Report, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Boulder Daily Camera and more.

The support from smaller communities, many of which tend to be politically conservative, doesn't surprise Heath. "It's not a matter of principle," he says. "They need the money -- and I think more and more people realize that's the case. Particularly in outlying areas, you've got schools that are only in session four days a week, and they're really hurting.

"I think we'll get a lot of support in the plains and in the west," he continues. "They recognize what a difference this will make for their schools, because a lot of communities can't do mill-levy overrides. And frankly, it doesn't matter if you can, because two-thirds of the funding comes from the state, and nobody can pass enough mill levy overrides to make up the difference. Everybody is hurting. The only difference is the degree to which they're hurting."

With that in mind, Heath posits that the 103 results "won't break down purely along Republican and Democratic lines. In this particular case, I don't think you can look at the voting profile of different areas and say, 'This doesn't have a chance' the way you can with some candidates. I would expect the map on election night will look a lot different than it would in a U.S. Senate or governor's race, where party affiliation means much more. I think parents, regardless of party affiliation, will have a high tendency to vote for this. That's why this is so hard to predict."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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