As a former elementary school teacher, I believe teachers should get paid more. And as a father of three, I want my kid's teachers to be fairly compensated for the important work they do.
But we need to be clear about something: Amendment 73's massive tax hike is not the best way to improve teacher pay or put more money into classrooms. While administrative costs have soared, inflation-adjusted teacher pay has slightly declined. Colorado spends more on administrative costs than the U.S. average, and only 53 percent of total expenditures go to "instruction."
Teachers are sick of money going everywhere except into classrooms. While teachers spend their own money on whiteboard markers and classroom supplies, administrative bureaucracy is ballooning.
Right now, we even have a handful of school districts using tax money to sue the state over a bill that helps more kids get a ride to the public schools that they chose to go to. While these districts are wasting time and money, too many students are falling behind academically. Our kids deserve better.
Amendment 73, which will be on the November ballot, is a massive $1.6 billion per year statewide tax increase. In 2011 and 2013 similar tax hikes were crushed by a 2:1 margin by Colorado voters. This time, the structure of the tax might look a little different, but the results would still create an incredibly damaging ripple effect that will touch everyone in the state.
Families would see an 8 percent state tax increase for income they make over $150,000, 50 percent for money they make over $300,000, and 78 percent for money they make over $500,000.
But another huge problem is the hidden tax on all of us. State business taxes will go up almost 30 percent, and when businesses pass on that increase to consumers, it will hit every one of us in our pockets. Additionally, this significant increase in taxes will discourage business investment in the state – exactly the opposite of what we want.
And this is not a one-time tax, or something that will go away. As a ballot initiative, Amendment 73 will change Colorado's Constitution, and forever alter our tax structure.
There is also concern that part of the $1.6 billion would be used to backfill the massive unfunded liability facing our unsustainable state worker's pension system (PERA). This fear was a main reason why Amendment 66 lost big in 2013.
If we want to improve education funding and actually put more money in our classrooms, where it will directly impact our children's education, it's time to think beyond blanket tax increases. Coloradans have made it clear that roads and education are their main concerns, so let's encourage our state legislators to prioritize our $30 billion state budget around fixing these problems.
Amendment 73 and its massive tax hike is not the right answer to Colorado's education funding question. We should do a better job of prioritizing education in our state budget and ensure that more of our tax dollars are going to our teachers and our children, not the education bureaucracy in Colorado.
--- Michael Fields is the Executive Director for Colorado Rising Action,
Former Senior Director of Issue Education for AFP, and a former elementary and middle school teacher.