It may be an off-year for federal elections, but Nov. 5 will prove pivotal for some local measures. This week we’ll take a daily look at the policy questions facing voters in some states.
If approved by voters, two ballot measures in Colorado would raise about $1 billion in new revenue for the state in their first year of implementation.
Under a Colorado law adopted 21 years ago, state and local governments can’t raise taxes without voter approval. So, next Tuesday, Coloradans will make a choice on a duo of new taxes. One expands the individual income tax to raise education funding. The other imposes a new tax on marijuana, which residents voted to make legal last November.
What’s at stake
Last year voters in Colorado approved legalizing pot. This year, they’ll take up whether to tax it. The taxes under proposition AA are intended to provide the funding for enforcement and regulation.
The proposition imposes two taxes. The first is a 15 percent excise tax on the average wholesale price of retail pot. To sweeten the deal, the first $40 million in annual collections of the excise tax would go to public school construction. (Though it’s not expected to raise that much in its first two years.) The measure would also impose a 10 percent sales tax on pot and pot-related projects.
Of the taxes collected, 15 percent will go to cities and counties where sales take place. The taxes are estimated to raise roughly $67 million annually, $6 million of which will go to local governments. Preparing for tax collection will cost $4.2 million in the first year and $1.3 million each year after.
What’s the fuss
Proponents argue that strong regulation and enforcement will keep the federal government from interfering. Even though the administration said this year that it was prioritizing the worst marijuana-related offenses over simple possession and use, proponents worry that it would only take a few bad headlines involving minors, violent crime or the like to derail their efforts. Also, school construction will help with needed improvements and could create new jobs, they argue. Brian Vicente, a lawyer who co-authored the legalization measure, has also urged passage of the tax proposal. The Denver Post also endorsed the measure. Even famed anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist has given the idea his blessing.
Opponents — who have handed out free joints to promote their cause — say the tax is so high it might discourage pot sales and encourage an underground market for the drug, defeating the point of legalization. Plus, they say, last year’s amendment only called for an excise tax, but this measure includes a sales tax, too.
Each side has a slew of lawmakers and a handful of organizations on its side.
Where it stands
A spring Public Policy Polling survey, commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project, showed support for the dual pot taxes at 77 percent.
INCOME TAX HIKE
What’s at stake
Colorado has had a flat 4.63 percent individual income tax for roughly a quarter century. Amendment 66 would replace and raise that. If passed, Coloradans would pay a 5 percent tax on the first $75,000 of taxable income and 5.9 percent on income above that. The measure also reforms how school-district funding is allocated, requires 43 percent of state income, sales and excise taxes to go to public education, and repeals a constitutional amendment requiring annual inflation adjustments to per-pupil spending. The measure would raise $950 million in the 2014 to 2015 budget year, according to the state’s official legislative analyst.
Education spending is the single largest piece of the state’s budget. An average 46 percent of revenue from income, sales and excise taxes has gone to P-12 education funding since the 2000-2001 budget year. Amendment 66 would require that it never fall below 43 percent. The measure is in part a response to a souring economy. Revenue declines forced the legislature to reduce the amount of money going to school districts over the last three budget years. In the 2012 to 2013 budget year, funding was a billion dollars below what the state-set formula would have required, according to the analyst’s report.
More than two out of three households will see a tax increase of 8 percent, while the remaining third will see even greater tax hikes. The new allocation formula would focus more on at-risk students — those eligible for food assistance or English-language learners. Principals would also have more say over how money is spent.
What’s the fuss
Some of the arguments in favor of the measure are obvious: it would raise needed funding for schools and give administrators more flexibility over how it’s spent. Supporters also argue it would have other added benefits. For one, it would make the state’s income tax system less regressive by spreading the tax burden more equally as a share of one’s income. Proponents also argue that the state will see economic returns on its education investment and that increased state income taxes will be partially offset because those payments are deductible from federal taxes.
Opponents say the tax increase is unnecessary, will choke small businesses, and would be a drag on the economy. Because more of their income will go to the state, residents will be discouraged from spending, they argue. Additionally, there’s no guarantee the added school funding will yield results. They also argue that the plan is unfair and will result in donor and taker school districts — some will pay more than they receive and vice versa.
Where it stands
The Denver Post and at least eight other publications have endorsed the measure, as have 25 school districts and 126 local organizations. Opponents count 21 organizations and 43 current and former state lawmakers on their side.
A late-September poll showed the measure’s opponents were winning. Among a sample of 600 people, 44 percent said they opposed the measure. When given further detail on the policy, 52 percent opposed it. In response to both questions, 38 percent said they supported the idea.