In an October debate on 9NEWS, Sen. Mike Johnston (D-Denver) defended Amendment 66 in an unusual way—by framing it as a weapon to level the education playing field on behalf of rural Colorado districts overshadowed by legislators focused exclusively on the urban, I-25 corridor.
Johnston, the author and lead proponent of the tax measure admitted to his debate opponent, Independence Institute President Jon Caldara, that rural Colorado has suffered and been ignored–on multiple issues–by a legislature devoted, seemingly, to the interests of the Front Range:
“What are the districts that we make the most significant investment in?” Johnston asked.
“If you look at the 60 or 70 districts in this state that get the most significant per pupil investment out of this structure, it is small, rural districts that have been disserved for too long by a Front Range-dominated legislature,” Johnston declared.
The relevant passage can be found at the 7:50 mark in this clip, for reference:
Amendment 66 was defeated by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, 65 to 35 percent, on November 5.
The “war on rural Colorado” became an issue in the 2013 legislative session, when a variety of bills targeting several issues became a touchstone for citizens of rural districts and the legislators who represented them.
Among them was Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray), who has tossed his hat into the Republican primary for governor.
“The real war on rural Colorado is the renewable energy mandate bill that passed over our objections–it only affected us,” Brophy said, referring to SB 252, which passed during the session.
The legislation requires rural electric cooperatives to increase the amount of electricity generated from renewable energy sources.
“The gun control bills, which don’t make anybody safer but have a significant impact upon the people of rural Colorado, and the continued attack on the oil and gas industry,” said Brophy, were symbolic of an agenda that clearly targeted one segment of Colorado. These measures were, according to Brophy, opposed by almost everyone who lives in and represents rural Colorado.
As for a war on rural Colorado?
“It does indeed exist,” he said.
Brophy also took issue with Sen. Johnston’s characterization of the existing school finance act and said Johnston is likely familiar enough with the sensitivity of the issue of the war on rural Colorado and “was using that to advance his agenda” on Amendment 66.
Pointing to the video, Brophy rejected Johnston’s characterization of the current school financing.
“It’s just not an accurate statement,” he said.
He cited the disparity between per pupil spending in rural and urban districts, newer buildings in places like the San Luis Valley, and the way districts can count students, sometimes years after they leave the district.
“The bottom line is, there is a war on rural Colorado, it’s just not in school finance,” Brophy said.
Attempts to reach Johnston by email Friday were unsuccessful.
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