Pro-Lobato attorney objects to new education tax initiative

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Attorney Kathleen Gebhardt carried the Lobato school-funding case for years but finally lost last month when the Colorado Supreme Court overturned a trial court decision in her clients’ favor.

Wouldn’t she then favor a ballot proposal this fall that is supposed to increase public school funding by about $1 billion — even if that’s not as much as she hoped to get through the court system?

Not if it’s Proposed Initiative 22, which seems to be the unannounced choice of those pushing a state income tax increase for public schools. (Read my previous report about the choice of Proposed Initiative 22 here.)

Number 22, she argues, performs too many “budget shenanigans,” like emasculating Amendment 23, and won’t produce anything close to the money she believes the schools need.

Gebhardt felt so strongly that she filed an objection with the Title Setting Board claiming that Proposal 22 — and many of the others — violated the “single subject” rule now required of ballot proposals. She claimed its multiple topics not only imposed incremental income tax rates, they created a separate State Educational Achievement Fund, mandated that certain percentages of various taxes go to education and repealed “core provisions” of Amendment 23.

Amendment 23, passed by the voters in 2000, required the legislature to increase school funding by inflation plus 1 percent for 10 years, and by inflation thereafter.

The title board rejected her motion, and Gebhardt didn’t take the issue to the next step, which would have been an appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Historically, the high court has ruled that proposals it likes are single-subject and that proposals it doesn’t — no matter how short — are not and therefore can’t go onto the ballot. But it doesn’t rule unless it’s asked, and it wasn’t.

Gebhardt favored Proposed Initiatives 25 through 28, which are short, simple, single-subject tax increases that don’t touch Amendment 23.

Proposal 22 effectively repeals the base funding mandated by Amendment 23, repeals the annual inflationary increase and instead tries to put 43 percent of the general fund into education, Gebhardt said.

“Already that number is too small and they want to enshrine it in the [state] constitution,” she said.

The proponents of 22 didn’t even try to pitch it as an increase in state education when testifying before the title board, Gebhardt added. “They talked about it only as a restructuring of school funding.”

Her final complaint: The 16 possible ballot measures were drafted “without much public input. It wasn’t a very democratic process. It was decided by a small group of people without a lot of input from potentially affected constituents.”

It looks as though this fall’s ballot proposal will draw flak from some progressives as well as conservatives.

Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes Thursdays for CompleteColorado.com. Contact him at pblake0705@comcast.net You may re-publish his work at no charge and without further permission; please give full credit to Peter Blake and www.CompleteColorado.com



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