DENVER – A tax increase for the state’s schools can stay on the November ballot, a judge ruled Tuesday night.
Denver District Judge R. Michael Mullins denied a challenge to Amendment 66, saying the right to run ballot petitions is fundamental and must be respected by the courts,
The lawsuit, backed by Coloradans for Real Education Reform, claimed that Amendment 66 should be kicked off the ballot because of technical violations by petition circulators.
The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Matt Smith, stressed in court Friday that he was not alleging the Amendment 66 campaign committed fraud. But he argued state law requires strict adherence to a process to make sure signatures aren’t gathered fraudulently. Petition circulators filled out parts of their forms that plaintiffs claimed should have been completed by notaries.
Mullins shot down the argument in his Tuesday night ruling.
“This was clearly a good faith attempt to comply with the statute rather than some effort to mislead voters or election officials,” Mullins wrote.
The pro-Amendment 66 campaign celebrated Mullins’ ruling.
“This lawsuit was a political stunt intended to distract voters from the merits of Amendment 66 and its promise to reduce class sizes, increase one-on-one attention for all students and restore programs like art, gym and music,” said Yes on 66 campaign director Andrew Freedman, in a news release.
One of the plaintiffs, former state Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora, said he was disappointed with the ruling.
“If a vested interest can spend a million dollars to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot, the least that we can expect is strict compliance with the law,” Hagedorn said in a news release from Coloradans for Real Education Reform.
However, in his ruling, Mullins said the Amendment 66 campaign did indeed meet the legal test for “strict compliance” with election laws, but even if it didn’t, Mullins said Hagedorn’s side ignored 19 years of state Supreme Court precedents that give ballot campaigns leeway to comply with the law even if they don’t have all their paperwork technically perfect.
Amendment 66 seeks an increase in the income tax rate in order to give public schools about $1 billion more a year. If it passes, Colorado’s 4.63 percent tax rate will rise to 5 percent on the first $75,000 of a person’s income and 5.9 percent on income greater than $75,000.
Ballots began to go out in the mail to voters Tuesday. The deadline to return ballots is Election Day, Nov. 5.