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Supporters of K-12 Funding Overhaul Turn in Signatures

J. Stephen Conn (CC-NC)

A measure asking Colorado voters if they want to raise income taxes by nearly $1 billion a year to pay for public school upgrades is a step closer to the November ballot. KUNC's Bente Birkeland reports.

Update Monday 12:30 p.m. - Supporters of the measure turned in roughly 160,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's office - more than twice the amount required by law.

Democratic senator Mike Johnston of Denver sponsored the underlying legislation. He says gone are the days when the state simply asks voters for a blank check.

“We believe you ought to invest in kids. But whenever you ask the voters that you have an obligation to tell them where the money goes,” said Johnston. “What they want to know is what am I investing in? Where will the dollars go? And how do I know what the results look like?”

Under the proposal the average family would pay an additional $130 each year in taxes, about an 8 percent increase. Income above $75,000 a year would be taxed at a slightly higher rate.

Kelly Maher with the conservative group Compass Colorado, which opposes the measure, says reform can happen without more money.

“Coloradans largely recognize that now is not the time for a billion dollar a year permanent tax increase,” said Mahers. “We have a fragile recovery and it’s the exact wrong time to do this.”

The Secretary of State’s office has until early September to verify if there are enough signatures for the measure to make the ballot.

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Grassroots organizations including Great Education Colorado helped gather signatures. Director Liane Morrison tells Colorado Public Radio her organization helped deliver about 4,000 signatures.

“Our supporters are very excited to an opportunity to put this in front of voters -- that it gives them an opportunity to talk about how we can reinvest in our schools and start digging out of a hole.”

Initiative 22 would raise $950 million for schools through a two-tiered income tax. The additional money would be spent on statewide full-day kindergarten, expanded access to free preschool and other upgrades. 

An opposition group, Coloradans for Real Education Reform, plans to hold its first press conference Monday afternoon.