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Colorado voters reject new taxes as part of school-funding initiative

It was the most significant tax measure to appear before any U.S. voters this year and early returns suggest voters wanted nothing to do with it. Colorado’s Proposition 103, which would have marginally raised state income and sales taxes to fund education, was drawing roughly 35 percent support in the hours after polls closed.

“While Prop 103’s proposed way forward may not be our preference today, the issues it raises remain relevant,” Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio was quoted to say in a release.

“Tonight’s results are one part of a much larger conversation Coloradans are having about how we invest in our future generations. A strong education system remains fundamental to our continued vitality, and Proposition 103 raised important questions about how we stand by our children and students and offered a solution to funding concerns.”

Championed by Boulder state Senator Rollie Heath, the proposition would have nudged up taxes to pre-1999 rates. It would have hiked sales tax from 4.63 percent to 5 percent and income tax from 2.9 percent to 3 percent. It would have raised $3 billion in additional funding over five years for the state’s public schools and universities.

For a statewide initiative, the campaign in support of the measure was low key. Most major state politicians steered clear of the initiative. Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper said he promised voters not to raise taxes and didn’t support or oppose Prop 103.

The education budget in Colorado, as elsewhere, has been repeatedly raided by lawmakers looking to prop up other state programs as the recession has eroded tax revenues. Last year lawmakers drained hundreds of millions from education, same as the year before and the year before that.

With its already low tax rates and constitutional restrictions on raising taxes, Colorado spending on education is among the lowest in the nation.

Stateline, a Pew Center on the States news website, called Proposition 103 a barometer on how Americans were feeling about taxes, a fraught question as presidential-year politics heats up.

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