Amendment 66, Gold Dome, Politics

Why this former Democratic state senator cannot support Amendment 66

The opening of an October 17 Denver Post article on the end of the latest fiscal crisis sums up what we can expect in the years ahead from D.C.’s dysfunction (a sentiment shared by many national media outlets):

Hold the champagne. Even after lawmakers complete their pending deal to avert a federal default and fully reopen the government, they are likely to return to their grinding brand of brinkmanship perhaps repeatedly.

icon_op_edEconomist Paul Krugman punctuates the theme in the October 13 New York Times:

…[O]ur current state of dysfunction looks like a chronic condition, not a one-time event. Even if the debt ceiling is raised enough to avoid immediate default, even if the government shutdown is somehow brought to an end, it will only be a temporary reprieve.

Mind you, this painful “dysfunction” accompanies what has already been a slow, tenuous economic recovery.

Then add the Affordable Care Act to the equation. Regardless if you’re for it or against it, beginning January 1, many currently uninsured Colorado working families will have to have health insurance or pay a penalty under the ACA. It’s the law. Regardless of subsidies, it will cost them more January 1.

So, is it wise at this time to add an increase in the income taxes 95% of Colorado small businesses will have to pay beginning January 1, as Amendment 66 will do if it passes? One thing on which Democrats and Republicans both agree is that American small business is the economic backbone of America.

If Amendment 66 passes, working families earning $50,000 will lose $100 out of their paychecks.  Ten dollars is the cost of a co-pay to take a sick child to see a medical professional or the cost for a generic prescription drug (like an antibiotic for an infection) at the local pharmacy.  That’s 10 fewer clinic visits or prescriptions for needed drugs per year.  (And we all know that healthy children are better learners.)

Retired Coloradans and those hoping to retire in the near future both are very concerned if they have enough money for retirement. Can they afford “$133” being taken out of their retirement beginning January 1 if Amendment 66 passes? Mind you, it isn’t like asking them to give up two Grande Mocha Lattes at Starbucks each month. To them, the extra tax burden consists of real, meaningful dollars.

Having gone through the challenge of crafting a state budget during a recession and dealing with the various requirements put into the state constitution by TABOR and Amendment 23, I believe we should be very wary about adding new constitutional language that would further limit budgetary flexibility.

A constitutional mandate that carves out nearly half of the state budget for a single purpose is especially problematic. (Because of the way Amendment 66 is written, it will not just limit education spending to 43 percent of available revenues, as proponents suggest.)

Finally, fact-checking by Denver television media has concluded that bold promises to roll back school fees; “return” physical education, art and music to schools; to reduce class sizes; and to hire more teachers’ aides, are simply not guaranteed.

Neither the language in Senate Bill 213, the proposed school finance act, nor the proposed Amendment 66 give any such assurances of how funds would be used. Will it be a case of “promises made, promises kept” or “promises made, promises ignored”?

The current school finance act is 20 years old and needs to be updated, and one certainly can make the case that schools need some level of increased funding. However, SB 213 and Amendment 66 are not the solutions, especially not at this time.

Bob Hagedorn, a Democrat, served in the Colorado House from 1993 to 2000 and in the Colorado Senate from 2001-2008.  In 1993, he was a member of the interim committee that crafted the current school finance act. 

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