The coronavirus pandemic has left Colorado in the economic doldrums. As we are still adjusting to this “new normal,” it is vital Coloradans who have been impacted by COVID-19 have the opportunity to prioritize their financial stability. For this to happen, Coloradans must ensure we do not pass any obscene tax hikes this November. In the final hours of the 2020 legislative session, policymakers and legislators introduced HB20-1427, a backdoor tax hike on tobacco and nicotine products, which is now on the 2020 ballot as Proposition EE. Voters should reject this ballot measure.
Proposition EE is a $294 million tax increase on Colorado voters. As our economy attempts to recover from COVID-19, now is not the time to raise taxes on the very people who can least afford it and have been most impacted by the pandemic. A majority of Colorado residents are struggling — whether they were furloughed, laid off, have medical expenses, covering for someone in their family who was impacted, and the list goes on.
The pandemic has affected everyone. Instead of adding a tax hike, we need to help Coloradans recover. We cannot afford to give the Colorado legislature a blank check to spend on unidentified projects.
The legislature alleges that Proposition EE will fund preschool education. In reality, funding from Proposition EE, if passed, will not go to preschools for at least two-and-a-half years and maybe never. There is no language in Proposition EE that mandates the legislature to spend funds collected from this tax on preschool. Instead, all tax revenue from the ballot will go immediately into the state’s General Fund.
Furthermore, Coloradans deserve better than rushed public policy and backroom deals. As a former president of the Colorado Senate, I know that hurried legislation generally does not benefit Colorado voters. HB20-1427 was reviewed only for 20 minutes, and the committee heard from just two witnesses. The 43-page proposal passed with 72 hours left of the legislative session. Legislators did not permit public testimony and the details of the bill were put together without public discussion or input. If we want to raise taxes by $294 million, we should not rush public policy without broader and open debate.
The ballot issue also will hurt low-income Coloradans and small-business owners. In many situations, small businesses were hit the hardest during the mandated lockdown and thousands across the state were forced to close. Proposition EE will almost double the price of discount cigarettes through an anti-competitive, anti-consumer, state minimum cigarette price that is unlike the approach used in any other American state. Since discount cigarettes are mainly consumed by low-income adult smokers, the ballot issue would regressively extract a greater percentage of income from these vulnerable Coloradans and increase their costs by up to $1,200 a year.
If the goal of Proposition EE is to discourage smoking, then all tax revenue collected should be used for that purpose. Instead of stripping money from low-income residents, the legislature should use the revenue collected for tobacco cessation. However, only a small portion will be spent on cessation and the rest will go to the state legislature for unidentified projects.
Due to the negative impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, now is not the time to add a $294 million tax hike to already struggling Coloradans. Join me in voting “no” on Proposition EE.
Kevin J. Grantham, of Cañon City, is a former Colorado state senator representing District 2. He served as Senate president from 2017 to 2019.
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