Colorado Amendment 59
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Initiative 126 or the Savings Account for Education Initiative will appear on the ballot as Amendment 59. The measure would create a savings account within the State Education Fund, to be funded from 10% of the monies deposited into the State Education Fund, including revenue that would otherwise be rebated under the TABOR (Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights) rules, which the measure calls for diverting to the State Education Fund.
Beginning in 2011, Amendment 59 repeals the constitutional requirement to increase annual spending on schools by an amount equal to inflation and student enrolment growth – the permanent demand of Amendment 23. The other major part of that constitutional amendment, requiring annual 1% increases in school spending, expires automatically in 2010.
This measure is a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment.
Details of the proposal
Specifically, this measure would:
- Create a state education fund savings account within the state education fund;
- Fund the state education fund, beginning in fiscal year 2009-2010, by deposits of 10% of the monies deposited into the state education fund;
- Eliminate deposits from the state education fund if such deposits would cause the savings account to exceed 8% of the total amount appropriated by the general assembly from the general fund and the state education fund in the previous fiscal year;
- Divert any revenue the state would otherwise be required to rebated under the TABOR (Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights) rules to the state education fund instead;
- Require that state educational spending increase by rate of inflation plus 1% through fiscal year 2010-2011;
- Restrict spending of the state education fund and state education fund savings account to specific education expenses;
- Permit the general assembly to transfer moneys from the state education fund savings account to the general fund only if the general fund would otherwise be unable to maintain the 4% reserve required by law;
- Require that maximum funds to be transferred from the general fund for transportation expenses, as provided by law, be expended before any moneys are transferred to the state education fund.
The official ballot title reads:
An amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning the manner in which the state funds public education from preschool through the twelfth grade, and, in connection therewith, requiring that any revenue that the state would otherwise be required to refund pursuant to the constitutional limit on state fiscal year spending (Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights) be transferred instead to the state education fund; eliminating the requirement that, for the 2011-12 state fiscal year and each state fiscal year thereafter, the statewide base per pupil funding for public education from preschool through the twelfth grade and the total state funding for all categorical programs increase annually by at least the rate of inflation; for the 2010-11 state fiscal year and each state fiscal year thereafter, creating a state education fund savings account in the state education fund; requiring that a portion of the state income tax revenue that is deposited in the state education fund be credited to the savings account in certain circumstances; requiring a bill to be passed by either a two-thirds majority vote of each house of the general assembly or, in any state fiscal year in which Colorado personal income grows less than six percent between the two previous calendar years, by a simple majority vote of the general assembly to use the moneys in the savings account; establishing the purposes for which moneys in the savings account may be spent; establishing a maximum amount that may be in the savings account in any state fiscal year; and allowing the general assembly to transfer moneys from the general fund to the state education fund, notwithstanding any limitations on annual general fund appropriations, so long as certain obligations for transportation funding are met.
House Speaker Andrew Romanoff is the leading proponent of this measure, as well as the very similar Initiative 125, in order to fix problems and conflicts he sees in the state Constitution, between the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) spending requirements and Amendment 23, which protects and boosts education spending. Both initiatives would eliminate the tax refunds from TABOR and would put the money into a state education fund to be used for specific education purposes.
Romanoff and State Sen. Steve Johnson introduced the so-called Savings Account For Education (SAFE) measure in the Legislature, where it died. Supporters hope to get a better outcome by taking the issue to the voters.
The group spearheading the effort is called Colorado SAFE: Savings Accounts for Education.
Also supporting the measure are State Sen. Ken Gordon, the Colorado Children's Campaign, AARP in Colorado, the Colorado Association of School Boards, and Republican state Attorney General John Suthers.
Supporters say this measure will protect public education funding by dedicating a permanent source of funding, thus untangling what they see as a "fiscal knot" in Colorado's constitution. At the same time, the measure preserves the right of citizens to vote on taxes, one of the main features of TABOR.
Trustees of Metropolitan State College of Denver endorsed the ballot measure on Sept. 4, 2008.
Romanoff said it is important that the state set aside money, as this measure would do, during good economic times in preparation for the inevitable bad times. "If times are good," he said, "we don't need to spend every dime we're taking in."
Romanoff said the State Education Fund is like a "bucket" of money for public education, but the bucket is getting emptied out faster than it can be refilled. "It doesn't do any good to have the State Education Fund if there's no money in it," he said. This measure would eliminate the requirement that state education spending increase at a set rate.
Numerous Republican lawmakers have expressed opposition to the measure, including Douglas Bruce, who helped write TABOR. Bruce said the measure "would mean unlimited state funding forever." Bruce says the main objective of the measure is to get rid of TABOR and make unfettered spending easier.
"If he couldn't convince his Democratic colleagues and the governor of doing this through the (legislative-referred) referendum process, the question is how is he going to convince the rest of Colorado to give up their tax refunds," said Jon Caldera, executive director of the Independence Institute. "I'm not going to worry about it until he gets on the ballot."
Colorado Safe raised more than $500,000 in the first two weeks of September, according to campaign finance reports. Donors included the National Education Association ($250,000), the Denver Foundation ($225,000). The committee's total donations as of Sept. 15, 2008, was $1.3 million. The group had $374,000 on hand.
- Denver Business Journal: "Romanoff to begin petition drive for budget-reform measure," June 25, 2008
- Denver Business Journal: "Metro State board backs energy-tax measure," Sept. 4, 2008
- Journal-Advocate: "Romanoff: Status quo doesn’t work," Sept. 13, 2008
- Rocky Mountain News: "Romanoff launches petition drive," June 26, 2008
- Rocky Mountain News: "Local union gives $3 million to fight right-to-work measure," Sept. 15, 2008
- "Canvass Results - General Election 2008". Secretary of State of Colorado. Retrieved 2009-06-24.