Anticipated bill asks Colorado voters to forfeit TABOR refunds for education

A bill being drafted by Colorado Democrats would ask voters whether the state's excess tax revenue should be put in the state education fund for teacher compensation.

Colorado’s Taxpayer's Bill of Rights requires excess tax revenue be refunded to taxpayers. It also requires voter approval for all tax increases and limits spending and growth of government programs.

The bill, which hasn't officially been filed yet, is sponsored by Rep. Cathy Kipp, D-Fort Collins, and Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada.

“Colorado’s school funding system is underfunded and not currently up to the task of attracting, retaining and properly compensating the teachers, educators and student support staff that each and every public school needs to ensure that every student can thrive,” a bill draft obtained by The Center Square says. “Whether teacher salaries are measured in comparison to the cost of living or in comparison to the salaries of comparable professions, Colorado ranks among the bottom five states.”

According to the National Education Association, Colorado ranks No. 26 in the country for average teacher salary at $58,183.

The draft bill contends the state’s shortage of teachers and support staff can be traced to 13 years of required budget cuts. The reductions were part of a budget stabilization action in 2010 after the nationwide financial downturn. State funding levels are $10 billion below the amount necessary to compensate for inflation and accommodate growth in students, according to the draft bill.

Since the bill will be a referred measure, it would appear on the November ballot if it receives simple majorities in both chambers, which are controlled by Democrats.

Michael Fields, president of Advance Colorado Institute, a conservative advocacy group, said better oversight of the state’s education funding is preferred instead of the proposed measure.

"Education funding has increased substantially over the last few years, yet our teachers have not seen that money reach their paychecks or their classrooms,” Fields said in a statement. “Coloradans want accountability when it comes to education dollars before pushing more of their hard-earned dollars into a broken system.”

A 2019 ballot initiative to end TABOR refunds and allocate the funding to transportation projects and education was defeated by 54% of voters.

Last year, voters approved Proposition 121 to reduce Colorado’s income tax from 4.55% to 4.40%. Voters also approved a reduction from 4.63% to 4.55% in 2020.

“In 2019, Coloradans made it clear that they want to keep their refunds,” Fields said. “After receiving their $750 refunds last year, we imagine that voters will be even more willing to defend TABOR, and the same coalition that was assembled to defeat the last proposal will be prepared to defeat this one."

Voters also approved Proposition 123 last November, which diverts a portion of tax revenue for affordable housing. Prop 121 and 123 account for approximately $815 million less in general revenue subject to TABOR in fiscal year 2023, according to the Legislative Council Staff's most recent forecast.

The LCS forecast also projects revenue to exceed the TABOR cap by $2.47 billion in fiscal year 2023. It projects an excess of $1.53 billion in fiscal year 2024 and $1.37 billion in fiscal year 2025.

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