NoCo chambers split on Amendment 66

Influential business groups in Loveland and Fort Collins have come out strongly against Amendment 66, a far-reaching measure designed to dramatically increase funding available for schools via an increase in the personal and commercial income tax.

Chambers of commerce in each of these communities said they fear the measure unduly burdens small businesses and provides little oversight of how $1 billion in new annual revenues will be spent.

Business opposition isn’t uniform however. The Greeley Chamber of Commerce, for instance, has come out in favor of the amendment.

Colorado voters will decide the issue in the Nov. 5 election.

Education groups and others statewide have come out strongly in support. The Colorado State University Board of Governors, for instance, has endorsed the amendment.

According to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, the amendment would:

• Raise the state individual income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 5.0 percent on the first $75,000 of taxable income and to 5.9 percent on any taxable income of more than $75,000;

• Implement a new formula for allocating state and local funding to school districts;

• Repeal the constitutional requirement that base, per-pupil funding for public education increase by at least the rate of inflation annually; and

• Require that at least 43 percent of state income, sales, and excise tax revenue, collected at existing tax rates, be set aside annually to pay for public education.

Loveland and Fort Collins businesses leaders said that while education improvement is important, the tax burden on individuals and businesses outweighs the potential benefits.

“The Loveland Chamber of Commerce board of directors heard compelling arguments from both sides of Amendment 66 and, after careful consideration and review, voted to oppose the bill. Not because we don’t believe in school finance reform,” Loveland Chamber of Commerce president Mindy McCloughan said in an email. “We are most certainly in favor of increased funding to our schools but simply can’t support a bill that is going to shift the majority of the tax burden onto the backs of our businesses.”

McCloughan and other business leaders said they also worry that the measure will put too much money into education at the expense of other programs and that the two-tiered tax system it creates is unfair.

“Most business people I’ve spoken to strongly support public education, but they do not support 66,” David Maye, Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive, said in a statement. “One of the dirty secrets of Amendment 66 is that it punishes small business people. Most of them pay income taxes on their business income at the individual tax rate. For them, Amendment 66 is a 27 percent tax increase.”

Greeley Chamber president Sarah MacQuiddy said her organization believes the benefits of increased funding to schools in Greeley are too great to dismiss.

“The return to the Greeley school district is greater than many districts,” MacQuiddy said. “We will have a three-to-one return. When you look at the money that can be raised through Amendment 66, it just makes sense for us.”

CSU System Chancellor Mike Martin also has been outspoken in support. “Amendment 66 is an important investment in Colorado’s education system, an investment that will have a positive ripple effect that spreads far beyond the classroom. Amendment 66 will lead to better and more prepared high school graduates, who will turn into better and more prepared college students, who will turn into better and more prepared members of Colorado’s workforce,” Martin said in a statement.

How the measure will fare once final votes are counted isn’t clear yet. Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli said the result is likely to be close, and is being made closer still by the millions of dollars the pro-Amendment 66 forces have raised for advertising. In recent days, luminaries such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Microsoft founder Bill Gates have contributed a combined $2 million, in part to help reach infrequent voters.

“I can’t imagine that Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Gates would invest in something that won’t win,” Ciruli said. “On the other hand, I don’t think they would invest their money if they didn’t need to. Rational folks would say it will be close.”

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