Colorado voters reject tax hikes for education

DENVER Wed Nov 2, 2011 5:16pm EDT

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DENVER (Reuters) - Colorado voters roundly rejected a ballot proposal to temporarily raise state income and sales taxes to help boost public education, a defeat political analysts said was no surprise given the weak economy.

Proposition 103, aimed at generating $2.9 billion over the next five years, lost by a nearly 2-to-1 margin on Tuesday in what was the highest-profile tax measure up for a vote in the current off-year election cycle.

The outcome was being watched closely on Wednesday as an indication of voter sentiment on taxes in a key battleground state for the 2012 presidential race.

"For something like this to pass, all of the stars need to be in alignment, and for this one (proponents) had none of the stars," independent political analyst Eric Sondermann said.

Sondermann said backers of Proposition 103 faced an uphill battle not only because of a weak economy but also from a lack of strong financial backing or bipartisan political support.

"It wasn't surprising that it went down in flames, but a little surprising by how intense the flames were," he said.

The proposal called for a hike in state income tax rates from 4.63 percent to 5 percent, and a sales tax increase from 2.9 percent to 3 percent. Both would have lasted five years.

Opponents, citing a Portland State University study, said the measure would have put an estimated 119,000 jobs at risk at a time of high unemployment.

But supporters said raising more revenue was the only way to prevent deeper cuts to Colorado's strained public school system, which saw spending slashed by $227.5 million this year to help close a state budget gap.

The tax measure won majority support in just three of the state's 64 counties, Sondermann said, and those were largely liberal areas not reflective of the state as a whole.

"Boulder, Telluride and Aspen are not exactly the heartbeat of Colorado," he said.

The measure's chief proponent, Democrat state Senator Rollie Heath, told Reuters on Tuesday, when the measure appeared headed for defeat, that Colorado's "system of funding schools is clearly not working," and still needed to be addressed.

Beverly Ingle, president of the 40,000-member Colorado Education Association, issued a written statement saying the union was disappointed by the outcome.

"Colorado schools won't get the money to put forward critical goals such as lowering the dropout rate, reducing class sizes, training teachers or preparing students for 21st century careers," Ingle said.

Denver political analyst Katy Atkinson said even Democratic politicians, normally friendly to education causes, offered just lukewarm support at best.

"There just wasn't a coalition of groups outside of the education establishment who backed this," Atkinson said.

Republican state Senator Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs hailed the vote as a victory for taxpayers.

"We can't help children by bankrupting their parents," Cadman said.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston)

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