By Keith Coffman
DENVER, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Colorado voters go to the polls on
Tuesday to decide two ballot measures tied to education funding,
one taxing recreational marijuana and the other to hike state
income taxes to raise nearly $1 billion annually for public
Under the marijuana tax proposal, a combined 15 percent
excise and 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on recreational
cannabis sales, with the first $40 million raised to fund school
Along with Washington state, Colorado voters last year
legalized the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana
by adults for non-medical purposes. Washington's initiative had
a funding scheme built into the ballot measure, but Colorado's
constitution requires a statewide vote to approve tax increases.
Voters in Denver, meanwhile, will be asked to impose an
additional 3.5 percent city sales tax on pot shops.
While proponents of last year's marijuana legalization
ballot measure included the tax component in the law, there is
opposition from some within the pot legalization community to
Rachel Gillette, president of Colorado's chapter of the
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the
organization is not opposed to taxing cannabis sales, but the
state legislature slipped in the sales tax provision to the
"This is not keeping with the promise to tax marijuana like
alcohol," she said. "It's more like regulating the sale of
plutonium than alcohol. It looks like a law-enforcement money
GATES, BLOOMBERG PITCH IN
Separately, a proposed amendment to the state constitution
would overhaul the state's income tax structure, and require 43
percent of the state budget be funneled to K-12 education.
The school funding constitutional amendment would scrap the
state's current 4.63 percent flat income tax rate tied to
federal adjusted gross income tax, and replace it with a
two-tiered income tax hike.
Under the proposal, taxpayers who make less than $75,000
would pay a 5 percent rate and taxpayers who make over $75,000
would pay a 5.9 percent rate.
Proponents of the tax measure say Colorado has for years
underfunded public education, and seek voter approval to put
school funding on a surer financial footing.
But opponents argue that Colorado requires local school
districts to allocate tax revenues, so there is no guarantee on
how the money will be spent at the local level, which could be
used on teacher salaries or to backfill the state's underfunded
public employees retirement fund.
Backers of the tax have raised over $10 million for the
campaign, bombarding television and radio airwaves with ads,
touting the need for the money to fund full-day kindergarten,
and to restore music, art and physical education programs.
Among the donors to the pro-tax measure are Microsoft
founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda and New York City Mayor
Michael Bloomberg, who combined donated $2 million to the
Opponents were quick to seize on the contribution from
Bloomberg, who poured $350,000 into a campaign that
unsuccessfully tried to stave off the recall of two state
senators over their support for new gun-control laws.
"Billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg should have
realized by now that he can't buy Colorado politics, but
apparently he can still rope his friends in to try to flood the
landscape with out-of-state money," said Kelly Maher, executive
director of Compass Colorado, which opposes the referendum.
Independent Denver political pollster and analyst Floyd
Ciruli said the fact that supporters of the school tax hike
needed an infusion of cash late in the campaign indicates that
the measure is in danger of failing.
"Why would you need $2 million when you've already spent $8
million?" he asked.
Ciruli said the marijuana tax will likely pass, since
opponents of the tax would likely be younger voters who don't go
to the polls in large numbers, especially in a non-presidential
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Elizabeth Piper)
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