Republicans force debate on $65 million school plan
DENVER Upset that Democrats temporarily withdrew a plan from Gov. Bill Ritter that would generate $65 million more in tax revenue for schools, Republican senators introduced the measure themselves on Tuesday so they could rail against it. Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany introduced the measure, which would allow school districts to collect more property taxes and reduce the amount of money the state must send to school districts. Then McElhany asked lawmakers to vote against the proposal, which was unveiled by Ritter last week. The Senate voted it down 33-1. Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald dismissed the GOP move as theater and said she wanted a legal opinion on the proposal before voting on the measure. Democrats previously withdrew the plan to ask legislative lawyers if its legal under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, a constitutional amendment that limits government taxing and spending and requires voter approval of tax increases. Democrats plan to attach the proposal to the school finance act in the House if the lawyers say its all right under the amendment, or TABOR. McElhany voted for a similar proposal from former Republican Sen. Norma Anderson in 2004 but said he later opposed it when he realized it amounted to a tax increase. Those revenues dont increase magically without taxpayers writing a check and paying those in the form of additional property taxes, McElhany said. He said Tuesdays vote sent a message to the House that the Senate was concerned about the governors plan. Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora, disagreed. He was the only member to vote in favor of the plan and said hes always willing to vote for a Republican tax hike.Lets be real here. This was entirely a charade to begin with, Hagedorn said.The plan would apply to all but four of the states 178 school districts where voters have agreed to relax TABORs limits to support schools. Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita, said some of those school districts only agreed to a short-term relaxation of TABOR. In Mesa County, he said the plan would raise annual taxes on a $250,000 house from $475 to $513 over four years. Thats based on property values increasing by 11.5 percent. Sen. Sue Windels, D-Arvada, said the state is now paying for 64 percent of school funding and needs more money from local districts to prevent school spending from squeezing out other programs in the state budget.
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