COLORADO SPRINGS, November 6, 2013 — Yesterday’s election was a stunning loss for the extreme liberal agenda in Colorado, with voters soundly defeating Amendment 66 and union-supported candidates in key school board races across the state. This occurred despite massive funding for propaganda campaigns to sell the tax hikes.
Amendment 66 was a complex legislature-initiated constitutional amendment designed to raise more than $1 billion annually by raising taxes, at the same time creating a two-tier state income tax structure. The money from this amendment was to have gone to a general slush fund to be spent in pretty much any way the legislature wanted. Furthermore, the formula for how money was to have been distributed to Colorado’s 178 school districts would have been changed to redistribute the tax revenue from wealthy school districts to urban Denver districts.
Slick ads promised that if only Colorado citizens would give the school system this open-ended tax increase, they would restore gym class, arts and other enrichment programs. Voters didn’t buy it. Most believed that the bulk of the money would go to shore up PERA, the state retirement system.
Proponents of this 27 percent income tax increase raised $10 million to sell it to voters. At least $4 million came from education unions, and $1 million each from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bill and Melinda Gates. Apparently the left didn’t get the message from September that Coloradans don’t like all that money coming from outside the state.
To oppose Amendment 66, the Denver-based Independence Institute wrote and distributed research papers and started a speaker’s bureau to educate any civic groups that wanted to hear both sides of the story.
Amendment 66 went down to defeat by almost 66 percent — 64.8 percent. No one could complain about voter turnout, which at over 37 percent was significantly higher than most odd-year elections.
Amendment 66 was not the only tax increase on state ballots. Many school districts sought to increase their own revenues via property tax increases known as “mill levy overrides,” or MLOs. One such district was School District 38 in conservative northern El Paso County.
There the school district has a history of financial mismanagement, but the then-current board was re-elected in 2011 amid assurances that they had turned the corner on financial troubles. No sooner were they voted in, however, than they put a $4.5 million MLO on the ballot this fall. Like Amendment 66, it had no expiration date. To justify the 20 percent tax hike, they pointed to such general ideas as $1 million to attract and retain quality teachers.
Proponents ran a union-funded campaign styled “Now is the time…” a phrase taken from an Obama speech. During the campaign, opposition signs were stolen and businesses were strong-armed into remaining silent. It was suggested to a printer that if they wanted to continue to do business with the school district, they ought not to print signs for the opposition. Children were recruited to advocate for giving them “their money.”
In the end, voters defeated this tax increase even more overwhelmingly, 75-25. School board-backed candidate John Magerko, running unopposed, received only 59 percent of the vote — less than any winning candidate in the opposed election of 2011.
Yet the mill levy in El Paso County was small potatoes compared to the county-wide school board race in next door Douglas County. There, a reform slate of candidates had won in 2009 and implemented controversial reforms such as vouchers and pay for performance. They also decertified the union as bargaining authority for district teachers. The union fought the school board in court. Now, four years later, the unions poured millions into the race to unseat reform-minded candidates. Union-paid OFA canvassers went door-to-door.
The reforms have been so successful that for 400 openings in the district here were 14,000 applications. No need for a fund to attract teachers. The reform slate — not the same four — won all the races.
It was the same result in Jefferson County, another populous county west of Denver and in the Thompson School District in Loveland, Colorado. Reform candidates now control those school boards.
These winning efforts were led by grassroots people seeking educational reform. While the Democrat Party and teachers’ unions are closely allied in Colorado, the Republican Party played no role in the supposedly non-partisan school board elections. Organizers overcame incredible odds to achieve victory over moneyed and entrenched special interests.
Colorado voters yesterday rewarded their efforts by saying “no” to throwing more money at unions and “yes” to reform-minded school boards. The successful reforms of Douglas County will be more widely copied throughout the state.
This election really was one for the children.
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