Amendment 66 went down hard last night. I’ve enjoyed listening to the variety of postmortem commentary about why 66 lost (and lost so badly). When you lose by 32 points, it’s a fundamental rejection of your ballot question — not a minor campaign technical mistake or two (especially when you outspend the other side 10-to-1). My thoughts on a few of the elements of a crushing loss:
– Timing (Part 1): The national and Colorado economy is perceived as fragile. Salaries are flat. Confidence is low. Hard to vote for a state tax increase of any size when you’re worried about keeping your job.
– Timing (Part 2.): Government shutdown + ObamaCare rollout fiasco. Have a lot of faith that government has its act together? Let’s give ’em another billion bucks to manage. Not.
– Coloradans don’t like income taxes: Never have. Mill levy? Bring it on, I’ll certainly consider it… it’s for my kids. Income tax increase? I don’t want it going to bureaucrats and teacher unions in Denver making decisions for my neighborhood schools.
– Two tiers, too confusing: The two tiered tax approach made sense from being able to find enough dough to make the numbers work. But it was confusing for many and a deal breaker for even more. Small business peeps would bear the brunt. Not good when they’re the ones driving the economic recovery. (And many higher income voters I talked to didn’t believe, correctly, that they would be saddled with only $133 in new taxes — they figured out it would be a LOT more.
– Bill language: “Shall state taxes be increased by $950,100,000 annually in the first full fiscal year and by such amounts as are raised thereafter by amendments to the Colorado constitution and the Colorado revised statutes concerning funding for preschool through twelfth-grade public education, and, in connection therewith, increasing the current state income tax rate on individuals, estates, and trusts and imposing an additional rate so higher amounts of income are taxed at higher rates; requiring the resulting increases in tax revenues be spent only for improvements to preschool through twelfth-grade public education; allowing all tax revenues attributable to this measure to be collected and spent without future voter approval; requiring at least 43% of state sales, excise, and income tax revenues be deposited in the state education fund; and repealing certain existing public education funding requirements?”
Got that? All make sense to you? I saw the $950,100,000 annually line in the first sentence then had to re-read the rest of the bill language twice. So I got the tax part, but where is the “big change” reform and making schools better part? I spoke to a number of smart, engaged voters who hadn’t heard or read anything about 66 until they opened their ballots and were floored by the tax number. Too late to change their mind. Too late to explain what 66 does for classroom reform. Which leads me to the next element:
– $10 million dollars in tv ads and I still don’t get it: Caveat – I would love to see internal message development polls but I can guess at a couple things: It was critical for pro-66 messaging to keep it uber simple. But for a whole lot of folks the “Big Change. Small Price.” pitch didn’t feel like either… voters didn’t understand the breadth of the reform/financing change OR why they should care. For some, ANY tax increase… no matter how small is too much. Prove the value, make the case.
– Another amendment?: Don’t we have a Gordian state budget Knot of conflicting state amendments already? Does this one really fix the fundamental problems or will unintended brand new ones only make a needed grand bargain even more difficult to achieve?
– Mo money, mo money, mo money doesn’t always work: Outside billionaires, self-interested teacher’s unions — why are those folks spending so much money on a Colorado tax question? Am sure it would have been nice to demonstrate grassroots financing and fervent on-the-ground support instead of a top-down tv campaign.
– Where’s Bill Owens when you need him?: When Ref C passed there was clear and ever-present bi-partisan coalition building and compromise. A66 felt like it was us v. them from the get-go. Where were the business leaders? Where were the Republicans and Independents? It’s really easy to accuse the other side of not responsibly supporting a worthy cause. It’s another to fail to build the coalitions and compromise first before writing ballot language and hoping the biz/GOP will sign up. As with ObamaCare that had ZERO GOP support… it’s really hard to get broad, across the spectrum support for a big change after the train has left the station.
Bottom line? A66 was a complex, dense tax increase question with bad timing in a state that will doesn’t casually support tax increases. You knew the bases would rush to their traditional ends of the spectrum. How to bring the vital center into the conversation? And what will it take to bring this up again for a vote? A lot. Better national optics. Better long-term voter education and advocacy. But more than anything there has to be a re-examination of the coalition behind it. Failure to bring a broad, vocal, influential cross-spectrum of political, social, educational and business leaders as a unified campaign on such a sweeping ballot proposal will doom the next education tax ballot too. The center wins.