DENVER -- Colorado voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected the nation's only statewide tax increase on ballots this year – a proposal to raise income and sales taxes for five years to revive schools decimated by years of budget cuts.
The measure would have sent an estimated $2.9 billion to K-12 schools and public colleges and universities, and the vote indicates Americans may not be willing to consider higher taxes in this down economy, despite deep budget cuts to high-priority services like schools.
With 59 percent of the projected vote counted, Proposition 103 was trailing 65 percent to 35 percent.
The measure would have raised individual and corporate tax rates from 4.63 percent to 5 percent, and Colorado's sales and use tax rate from 2.9 percent to 3 percent. The rates would have been in effect from 2012 through 2016, with an estimated $2.9 billion in new revenue during that time going to K-12 schools and public colleges.
Earlier this year, Colorado lawmakers cut K-12 schools' funding by more than $200 million, to $2.8 billion. Still, most voters felt like Denver voter Mike Tiderman.
"I understand the plight of schools and everything, but personally, I don't want to pay more taxes right now," said Tiderman, a 44-year-old customer service worker.
Because Colorado's state constitution forbids lawmakers to raise taxes, the higher tax rates were petitioned onto ballots thanks in great part to the efforts of Democratic Sen. Rollie Heath. Other Democrats, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, declined to get behind the idea.
On the final day of voting in the mostly mail election, Hickenlooper released his budget proposal for next year, which calls for $89 million in cuts for public schools. Public colleges and universities would get $60 million less.
Also, Denver voters rejected a measure to require employers to provide paid sick leave. The suggestion was pushed by a worker's advocacy group, but it elicited strong opposition from business owners and even the mayor and Hickenlooper, a former restaurant owner.