The very first time my name appeared in print in the Summit Daily News was November 2004. A simple letter to thank voters who approved a then-contentious ballot measure to increase property taxes to support our local schools made it to print. Writing after the measure passed, I explained, “Although I contemplated writing before the election in support of the ballot questions many others better articulated my sentiments, and I was fairly certain any letter would resonate as self-serving, which quite frankly would have been true. One of my greatest hopes is for my kids to receive a quality education in Summit County. Throughout the process, however, I read with interest and appreciation letters from residents who did not have children to educate, or whose children had long since graduated, who nevertheless supported the funding. To all of you who have sacrificed part of your income to ensure the community’s kids, indeed my kids, continue to receive a quality education I am humbly grateful.”
Several years later the schools again asked for voter support with Ballot Issue 3B, another school funding initiative that was approved by local voters. With 3B signs in my yard, and the understanding that the impact of the tax increase was more tolerable because of the simultaneous sunset of a different tax measure, I was once again grateful to our local community for its support of education. I also genuinely believed that our schools would not soon be returning to the well to ask for more money from the hard-working folks of Summit County. By that time, our girls had nearly finished their elementary school days, and my preschool hopes were being realized as they were indeed receiving a quality education in Summit County.
Now, with Amendment 66 and the corresponding implementation of S.B. 213, school supporters again have come knocking — this time for a statewide income tax increase. My ballot sat on my desk for weeks, next to my highlighted blue book. I’ve read article after article spinning the pros and cons of the measure in circles, to the point of being dizzy. The measure is what it says it is, a tax increase for every tax-paying family in the state, impacting households that make more money to a greater degree. There are valid arguments on both sides of the issue, and from my vantage point it seems patently unfair to characterize anyone who disagrees with increasing taxes as some sort of ogre who would just as soon eat kids as educate them.
After weeks of wrangling, for me it’s come down to this. The school reform act of 1994 requires reform. We should expect our legislators to periodically determine whether legislation works, and more important, where it can be improved. Simply put, the school budget pie needs to be sliced and diced in a different way. The intent of the amendment, as I understand it, is to make sure no district ends up with a smaller slice, less than what it started with, while at the same time ensuring every kid gets the same shot at a quality education — not just my own. The fact that we here in Summit still have programs that were cut in Fruita makes us fortunate, but should not make us callous.
The increase of the flat tax rate back to its 2000 level of 5.0 seems a reasonable approach. For every dollar of taxable income over $75,000 the flat tax increases to 5.9 percent. Even though the percentage seems small, as a proportion, the tax rate increase is significant. Small-business owners will feel the hit on both the personal income side and on the business end. The end result will require sacrifice. The same type of sacrifice I thanked voters for in 2004, one I should not shrink from in 2013.
It also seems reasonable that from the sacrifice, accountability should follow. Unions, don’t wait to file suit — don’t file suit. Students, my own included, please respect this is your shot at education, and accept nothing less than your best. Taking seriously the sacrifices this community makes time and time again is the least we can do. And finally, as a parent I want to say thank you again to our community for your willingness to invest in our kids’ future. I’ve seen it on so many levels, no matter what side of the ballot box you check on this one.
Cindy Bargell is an attorney and mom who lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters.