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Colorado Voters to Decide on Taxes for Schools

Political junkies getting revved up for the Nov. 8 state elections should plan on tuning in a week early to Colorado, where voters will decide on a ballot item that carries big implications for schools and taxpayers.

On Nov. 1, residents will go to polls to decide the fate of Proposition 103, a measure that would impose a temporary sales and income tax hike to go toward public education.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the measure has drawn the backing of a number of school organizations, including the Colorado Education Association. So does the Colorado Association of School Boards, though representative of the group say not all of their members favor it.

Conservative organizations and a number of business groups have lined up against it, saying it will drag down the state's economy.

"The last thing Colorado needs in the wake of a devastating recession is a $3 billion tax hike," wrote Victor Mitchell, campaign chair of Save Colorado Jobs, which opposes the measure. "One that would hit just about every wage earner, every consumer, every employer."

Meanwhile, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has stayed determinedly neutral on the issue, to the frustration of backers of the plan.

If approved, the item would raise the state income tax from 4.63 percent to 5 percent, and boost the rate of the state sales and use tax from 2.9 percent to 3 percent for a period. Each tax hike would last for five years and revert to the previous level after that.

Why the unusual early election day? A constitutional amendment approved by Colorado voters years ago requires that ballot issues be decided on the first Tuesday of November in odd-numbered years—and that's four days from now.

The measure will offer a gauge of voters' willingness to pay more in taxes for schools, in an economy that appears to be in a slow, listing recovery. In 2010, Republicans won massive victories at the state level in 2010 running on a small-government, low-tax message. We'll see if the outcome in Colorado shapes state candidates' thinking heading into 2012.

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