To convince Colorado taxpayers to dig deeper into their pockets at this moment in the economy and against the current political mood requires both an appealing public need and well-considered revenue sources.
State Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, who wants to correct the states inability to fund schools, may have just such a pairing.
Heaths initiative would collect some $3 billion over five years for pre-K-12 and higher education, money that would help education at all levels regain its financial footing. Making a good education possible for Coloradans is critical to the states future, and while sufficient funding does not guarantee a good education it is difficult to provide one without it.
The effort, known as Initiative 25, would return two tax rates to their levels of a decade or so ago. The current individual and corporate income tax rate of 4.63 percent would rise to 5 percent, and the state sales tax of 2.9 percent would tick upward to 3 percent.
By looking to a small increase in income taxes, which provides a large portion of the states total revenue, those who earn pay it. As to the sales tax, which is regressive in that it hits those less able to pay, it does generate some revenue from those visiting the state.
And, again, both taxes would be set at levels Coloradans are already familiar with.
Most important, in the Journals view, is that under this initiative the two tax increases would sunset. They would only have a life of five years, from 2012 to 2017.
By then the states economy may well have returned to a more robust level and this funding might not be necessary. In any case, voters would be able to decide if there was a subsequent proposal on the ballot to extend the rates whether the first five years of funding had been worthwhile.
Heaths initiative has already been disparaged by those opposed to any increase in taxes by pointing out that he did not ask the Legislature to put the question on the ballot as a referendum, but instead is going to citizens for some 76,000 petition signatures.
There is a good reason in our view why Heath avoided the Legislature: even voting to put the question on the ballot could have been enough to be labeled pro-tax by a primary or general election opponent in these heated times. Better to go directly to Colorado voters, where Heath thinks he will find support.
An aside: During the signature gathering stage, we hope that proponents of the initiative will make an effort to acquire signatures not only from all the congressional districts but from some of their more far-flung corners.
Although not legally required, that will respect Coloradans far from the heavily populated Front Range and, if successful, add to the initiatives base of support.
The state of Colorado once covered only a third of the cost of K-12 education with local property owners paying two-thirds. Because of a couple of narrow constitutional amendments those percentages have been reversed.
Unless Coloradans want to greatly increase local taxes to pay for their schools and change the Constitution to make that possible the state has to have the funds that support requires.
In the coming weeks and months we will know how the signature gathering is proceeding, and perhaps some predictions as to the initiatives success in November. Success will not be easy, but because the revenue is for schools and for only five years, and it comes from returning two tax rates to previous levels, it may be possible.
Schools need a greater degree of financial support, and Initiative 25 may be the right package to make that possible.