‘Campaign for Kids’ off to good fundraising start

The Colorado Statesman

Organizers of the campaign for a ballot measure that will ask voters to okay a nearly $1 billion tax increase are off to a strong start, reporting more than $342,000 in their first campaign finance report.

The biggest donation to Colorado Commits to Kids, reported to the Secretary of State on July 1, was a $250,000 cash contribution from the Colorado Education Association, the state teachers’ union. The biggest expenditure was $75,000 to a Washington, D.C.-based company that promises on its website to “get your issue qualified for the ballot” and then “build a sustained field campaign to ensure victory on Election Day.”

But local pollster Floyd Ciruli said Tuesday that “Colorado voters are hardly easy targets for state tax increases, and this income tax hike is major.”

Petitions for the ballot measure, known as Initiative 22, headed out on June 17. Supporters must collect at least 86,105 valid signatures by Aug. 5, a task that Ciruli opined is “a modest undertaking.”

Initiative 22 asks voters to approve an increase in the state income tax rate to support SB 13-213, the new school finance act signed into law in May. The rate for taxable income of $75,000 or less would increase from 4.63 percent to 5 percent. Earnings of more than $75,000 would be taxed at 5 percent up to the first $75,000, and 5.9 percent for income above that.

Colorado Commits to Kids reported total contributions of $342,300 in its first filing. In addition to the $250,000 from CEA, the campaign raked in large contributions from heavy hitters in the Colorado business and education community. That includes former University of Denver Chancellor Dan Ritchie, who gave $10,000. Another $50,000 came from the Gary Community Investment Company. Gary Investment was founded by Sam Gary, who also started the Piton Foundation and with partner Ron Williams founded Gary-Williams Energy. Gary was one of the founders of the Colorado Forum, the organization that filed Initiative 22 in March. Williams kicked in $5,000 to the campaign.

Executive Katherine Gold of Goldbug gave $5,000; she is a past chair of the Colorado Children’s Campaign and sits on the board of Executives Partnering to Invest in Children.

The campaign also received two large contributions from the medical community, with $5,000 from Craig Hospital and $10,000 from the Colorado Hospital Association.

Of the $82,000 reported in expenditures, the largest chunk, $75,000, went to Fieldworks of Washington, D.C., a grassroots strategy organization, whose client list reads like a Who’s Who of Democratic-aligned groups. That includes the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), the Sierra Club, Colorado Conservation Voters Victory Fund, Service Employees International Union (SEIU); and numerous candidate campaigns, including Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.

Strong backing from the Colorado education and business community may mean a better chance of success for Initiative 22 in a statewide election than has been the history in the past few years, according to Ciruli.

The historical track record for statewide tax increases doesn’t bode well for the campaign, he said this week. “The presumption is against them… very few have had any luck raising taxes statewide.” People are much more willing to support local school boards, bonds and mill levy overrides than statewide tax increases, Ciruli explained. He pointed to the effort in 2011 by Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, to ask voters to approve a measure similar to Initiative 22. The 2011 measure, Proposition 103, sought to increase income tax rates from 4.63 percent to 5 percent, but it also included a temporary increase in sales taxes. More than one million votes were cast on the issue, but voters resoundingly rejected it, 64 to 36 percent.

Heath stood alone when he announced Proposition 103, and he never gained the formal backing of the CEA, although his initiative was supported by a number of other education groups, including Great Education Colorado. But in the end it gained only 36 percent of the vote. “I think [Initiative 22] will gain significant support from the Democratic Party and education establishment.” Ciruli predicted the measure would get more than 35 percent, but the question is whether it can get to 50 percent plus one. “History will suggest this will be very difficult.”

Another hurdle to be overcome for Initiative 22 supporters may be the “mini-revolt” going on in state politics. Ciruli said that the current attitude toward what came from the General Assembly during the last session may set the theme for what the election season looks like. People are angry and may have a “hostile attitude toward taxes,” he said. That anger is most visible in the recall efforts and the secession movement in northern Colorado, he added.

“If the [Colorado Commits to Kids] campaign does a good job and turn out their voters, those who work in education or parents with students in public schools, they can potentially dominate the election,” Ciruli said. But in an odd-year election, “electors are older and more conservative, and at this moment, angry.”

The campaign is off to a good start on its fundraising, and Ciruli says this should be one of the best-funded initiatives in quite a while. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this was at least a $4 million or $5 million campaign,” he said.

The only polling released publicly to date is from Republican-leaning Magellan Strategies. In early May, they announced they had surveyed 675 likely November 2013 voters on Initiative 22. When asked if they would vote for a tax increase for education, 50 percent said no, 43 percent said yes. However, when asked if they would support a $1 billion tax increase for education, 58 percent said no and only 24 percent said yes.

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com