Rollie Heath on Proposition 103, which would hike taxes to raise money for schools

Pushing a tax hike during difficult economic times might seem like the political equivalent of a suicide mission. But Senator Rollie Heath has taken on the challenge anyway -- and this week, Proposition 103, which would earmark the extra funds for schools, was officially approved for the November ballot. Moreover, he says the petitioning process suggests that there's a lot of support for the idea. "There was an overwhelming response to it," he says, "which was a pleasant surprise."

As explained on, the campaign's website, the measure, previously known as Initiative 25, 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

That may not sound like much -- but these days, every penny counts for people at every income level. Nevertheless, Heath says the number of people who stepped up to help gather signatures was "phenomenal. I think we had 657 volunteer petitioners, on top of paid petitioners, which is a huge number. People kept contacting me, saying, 'May I carry the petition?' I'd be at farmer's markets and people would say, 'I'd like to carry petitions, too.'"

In regard to the timing of this pitch, Heath doesn't think it's actually good from the perspective of curing our fiscal ills. "The only way we're going to get out of this is to grow jobs," he maintains. "And you can't grow jobs without having an educated work force. I've spent forty years in business in this state, running both of Johns Mansville's major subsidiaries and starting business of my own. And I can tell you this: You don't attract people unless you have an educated work force. And it's going to be very difficult to attract people if you're not investing in education."

Already, opponents of the measure are speaking out. Take, whose home page's top four items at this writing are all attacks on Proposition 103. And look for another one soon: WhoSaidYouSaid's Kelly Maher recently posted a video to YouTube in which a petition gatherer can be heard mischaracterizing the measure. To watch it, click here.

Heath also knows the Independence Institute isn't a fan, since he's already debated the organization's Ben DeGrow on two occasions -- and there's always the possibility that well-heeled anti-tax types will finance a massive effort to defeat the proposition. If so, Heath says, "we'll do the only thing we can do, which is work very well and very hard and rely on the grassroots. That's what got us 142,000 signatures" -- more than enough to guarantee its ballot placement -- "from parents and grandparents and business owners who understand how important it is to educate folks. We're going to rely on that. We're not going to change anything.

"My absolute dream," he adds, "is that Colorado bucks a trend and invests in education. I think that's the best headline we could possibly have."

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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.
Contact: Michael Roberts