Not so fast: Signatures for $1 billion Colorado tax hike under review

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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Just a day after Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper kicked off a statewide campaign urging voters to approve a nearly $1 billion tax increase to pay for education reform, the secretary of state’s office said it will have to look more closely at the petitions to see if the measure even qualifies for the ballot.

Proponents turned in nearly double the 86,105 signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot, but a random 5 percent sampling conducted by the secretary of state showed too low of a validity rate to simply send the initiative to voters.

The petitions will now have to be reviewed line by line.

“The need for review is a huge indictment on the claimed momentum of their campaign,” said Compass Colorado Executive Director Kelly Maher, whose group opposes the tax, in a statement to Denver’s Fox31.

Hickenlooper, who has been criticized for being indecisive about supporting the tax, launched the public campaign for its approval at a Lakewood high school Thursday.

If passed, the tax would pay for a slate of education reforms, including full-day kindergarten, programs for special-needs and gifted and talented students and other measures.

It would also change Colorado’s state income tax from a flat 4.63 percent to a tiered system in which households that earn less than $75,000 will be taxed a 5 percent rate and those over $75,000 at 5.9 percent.

Hickenlooper said passage of the tax would move Colorado from having the third lowest taxes in the country to eighth.

Opponents have called it a “blank check” to school districts that will cost the median family in Colorado $250 a year.

Maher also criticized the tax’s backers for using an East Coast signature gathering firm, which she said cost the campaign more than $500,000.

“It’s no surprise that an out-of-touch Washington, D.C., firm — paid over half a million dollars to date — struggled to properly collect signatures to put a billion dollar tax increase on the ballot in Colorado,” she told Fox31. “When you have East Coast and special interests entering the state to try to impose their will on Colorado’s families, the result will never be a good one.”

The secretary of state’s office has until Sept. 4 to complete the review.

Supporters said they’re still confident the measure will appear on the November ballot.

“We turned in nearly double the required number of signatures, and the random sample suggests we have collected more than enough to qualify for the ballot,” Andrew Freedman, campaign director for Colorado Commits to Kids, in a statement reported by the Denver Post. “We look forward to that announcement before Sept. 5 and will continue building support for the initiative to make Colorado a national leader in public education.”

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