Taxes & Spending

Tax hikes remain toxic

Tax hikes remain toxic

On Tuesday, November 5 the good citizens of Colorado voted 65% to 35% to defeat a ballot measure that would have replaced the present 4.63% flat rate income tax with a higher rate of 5% for those earning up to $75,0000 and a 5.9% rate for those earning more than $75,000.  This measure, if enacted, would have increased taxes by $1 billion a year with promises that it would be spent “on education.”

When issues are placed on the ballot by initiative petition or legislative referral we can learn a great deal from election results.  Candidates can win for a many different reasons.  Was the winner popular? Or was the loser unpopular?  Did voters agree with the candidate they cast a vote for on his entire agenda?  Or just one key issue?  Or was the vote based on personal issues of character or experience rather than any particular policy question?

But a vote on an income  tax increase to spend more money “on education” losing two to one in Colorado sends some stark, clear, undiluted messages. Initiatives do not flub debates or misspeak or drive under the influence or have bad hair days.  We can be fairly certain what message voters intended to send in Colorado when they said “no” to an income tax hike for more education spending.

And this loud and clear message of opposition to higher income taxes even with the promises that the revenue would flow to a “popular” cause of education spending undermines the Left’s narrative on taxes, Obama, and Colorado.

Colorado has now voted twice for Obama. It has a democrat governor and both houses of the legislature. A Rocky Mountain state that voted for Reagan/Reagan and Bush it was argued was now reliably deep blue, liberal, and Democrat.  And yet when a key principle of the progressive left — higher taxes for public goods — was put on the ballot, it was defeated two to one.

This message was all the more powerful when we learn that the proponents of the higher income tax ballot question spent more than $10 million dollars to promote a yes vote and opponents spent around $100,0000. A one hundred to one ratio of big bucks spending to promote a liberal vote that then lost two to one.

And who was coughing up the big bucks?  Bill and Melinda Gates, who used to advocate for reforming public education contributed one million to a campaign to instead throw a billion dollars more each year into the same system.  New York mayor Michael Bloomberg tossed in another million dollars. The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, took one million dollars of its teachers’ dues to finance this failed tax grab.

The opposition to this tax hike was a broad coalition of conservative and Republican groups and leaders with strong grassroots support but little money.  Jon Caldara, the president of the Independence Institute, a Colorado state think tank and the leader of the Colorado center –right monthly coalition meeting led much of the public education effort for a “NO” vote.  The messaging and ads can be surveyed at Kidsarefirst.org.

Not a single Republican legislator voted to put this tax hike on the ballot.  Only Democrats voted to put the tax increase on the ballot.

That this was both a vote against higher taxes and against “spend more on education instead of reform” is strongly suggested by the victories of pro-reform, pro-school choice school board members in Douglas Country,) where reformers had decertified the teachers union and passed the nation’s first local school choice plan) as well as in the largest country in Colorado (Jefferson County) and the City of Loveland.  Driving this point home, the campaign against the tax hike was named “Coloradans for Real Education Reform.”

Pundits wonder about what Chris Christie’s election in New Jersey means. And what caused the defeat of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia’s governor race.  Christie had money.  His opponent was weak.  Cuccinelli was hurt by the government shutdown weeks before his election in a government worker heavy state.  Did the Democrat “War on Women” slogan hurt him?

But the message of Colorado is clear.  Voters in a square blue state in the Rockies overwhelmingly voted down an income tax that promised to increase education funding by one billion dollars a year.  This cannot make Obama or Democrat activists confident that they have changed the nation permanently to the left. Or even Colorado.

Grover Norquist is founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform.

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