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Schools are test of voters' tax mood

The nation's only statewide tax vote on the November ballot asks Colorado voters whether they want to temporarily raise taxes to generate $3 billion for classrooms and colleges -- a proposal that has stirred fierce opposition because of the stagnant economy.

The vote could serve as a test of voters' mood on tax increases and their frustration after endless rounds of education cuts in Colorado.

"If it should pass, I think it will get a fair amount of attention because no one is expecting anything with the words 'tax increase' to pass," said Norman W. Provizer, a political science professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver.

Opponents, including the entire Republican delegation in Colorado's Legislature, insist that tax hikes will cost jobs and won't by themselves help schools. Some Democratic leaders, including Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, have declined to publicly endorse the proposal, saying they see little appetite for a tax hike.

Even some supporters are skeptical.

"I doubt it will pass," Valerie Walker said after dropping off her ballot early in downtown Denver. While she voted for the initiative, she said, "I just think people can't afford having additional money coming out of their pockets right now."

The money raised by Proposition 103 would help fill the void from education cuts that were induced by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, a voter-approved initiative that strictly limits taxes and spending.

The measure would raise individual and corporate tax rates to 5 percent, from 4.63 percent, and Colorado's sales and use tax rate to 3 percent, from 2.9 percent. The rates would be in effect from 2012 through 2016, with an estimated $2.9 billion in new revenue during that time going to schools -- kindergarten through grade 12 -- and public colleges.

A married couple with a combined household income of $125,000 would pay about $315 more annually in income taxes, nonpartisan legislative economists estimate. Sales taxes on a $5,000 purchase would increase to $150, from $145.

Funding for K-12 education in Colorado totals $2.8 billion, or nearly 40 percent of the budget.

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