Colorado voters did not stutter Tuesday when they resoundingly defeated a school funding initiative and just as decisively approved a marijuana taxing protocol. The results are striking, if unsurprising. In both cases, though, there is need for continued discussion – about next steps for school funding and structuring how the projected marijuana-related windfall will be spent.
Amendment 66, which voters rejected 66 percent to 34 percent, faced an uphill battle from the start, when opponents of the measure were handed a heavy stick with which to beat the proposal: It would have raised nearly $1 billion annually. This revenue was to have come from a two-tier income-tax increase – from a 4.63 percent income-tax rate to 5 percent, or 5.9 percent on income above $75,000. It also would have triggered a new formula for state support for schools.
The increased funding would have been used to pay for preschool, full-day kindergarten, English-language learners and support for at-risk students. There were significant accountability measures built in to the proposal to ensure it would be spent according to plan, and it would have done away with the problematic Amendment 23, which constitutionally requires a 1 percent annual increase in K-12 education funding.
But it was a $1 billion tax increase, levied on income, and so it went down in flames.
That should not stop the effort to bring about education funding reform – and improvement – in Colorado. Passing such a comprehensive, complex and complicated overhaul often takes more time than a single election cycle offers, and the team of smart, dedicated advocates who crafted Amendment 66 must not be deterred by Tuesday’s thumping. After all, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, a pivotal constitutional amendment that has had enduring and significant effects on state budgets since its passage in 1992, took three tries to win voter approval.
Not so Proposition AA. This measure passed with flying colors Tuesday, 65 percent to 35 percent. This proposal will levy an excise tax and a state sales tax on recreational marijuana sales to the combined maximum total of 30 percent – 15 percent for excise, and up to 15 percent for sales; it is at 10 percent now, and the Legislature can raise the rate to a ceiling of 15 percent.
The first $40 million in excise taxes collected each year will go to fund public school construction, and approximately $10 million of the sales tax collected – estimated to be $39.5 million a year – will be used for regulation and enforcement. That leaves $29.5 million to burn. Of that, $6 million will be returned to localities where marijuana sales occur, and the remainder will go into the state’s $7.7 billion general fund.
That is not chump change on its face, but is a relatively small percentage of the overall fund. Nevertheless, the Legislature should find a way to hold itself accountable for how the revenue will be spent, and also hold itself to the requirements for the excise taxes to fund education construction. Too often, lawmakers play fast and loose with new revenue when spending requirements are not ensconced in the state Constitution. Here is an opportunity to change that, and perhaps diminish voters’ understandable fondness for protecting their revenue streams in what should be a foundational document – not one that determines the details of the state’s budget.
Tuesday’s results were decisive, and lawmakers have an opportunity to make the best of Colorado voters’ will. We encourage that.