Mar 30, 2010 8:27 PM by Andy Koen

Bill aims to untie schools from TABOR

State lawmakers will soon take up the issue of whether to ask voters for more power to raise taxes specifically for schools and colleges. The proposed DECIDE amendment is being pushed by the group Great Education Colorado.

Policy Director Lisa Weil says, if passed, the amendment would give lawmakers authority to raise revenues so long as the money was use to prevent and reverse cuts to preschool, K-12 and higher education.

"We're at a point where if we don't do anything we're going to be making devastating and deep cuts, sometimes irreparable cuts, to our schools colleges and universities," Weil said.

The state plans to cut an estimated $260 million from local schools next year.  Weil says their goal is to give lawmakers the flexibility to balance the budget without spending cuts.

But Ben DeGrow of the conservative think tank the Independence Institute says this proposal skirts the intent of the Tax Payers Bill of Rights (TABOR) which requires voter approval for all tax increases.

"The fact that they're trying to take away the voters right to decide on tax increases at the local level in education is a matter of great concern," DeGrow said.

State Representative Michael Merrifield disagrees.

"TABOR said ask, we're asking," Merrifield said. "Do you feel we should make these investments? Do you want us to make these decisions or not?"

The DECIDE website suggests the money could also be used to create accountable education reform, to reduce class size, to improve school safety and technology, to expand effective teaching, early childhood education and full-day kindergarten, and to supplement career technical education and higher education.

The bill was just introduced into committee Tuesday and will likely have an uphill fight to get on the ballot come November.

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