Another ‘mixed message’ from Colorado voters in fiscal ballot measure results
Free school lunches, ballot transparency measure approved alongside second consecutive income tax cut
The cover of the Colorado “Blue Book” for the Nov. 8, 2022, midterm election. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)
Colorado voters on Tuesday appeared to approve at least three ballot measures that sought significant changes to state tax and fiscal policy, while a fourth held on to a narrow lead, unofficial results showed.
One group called the results a “mixed message,” with voters on track to pass several fiscal measures and new social programs backed by progressive groups even as they approved another state income tax decrease that will cut into the state budget and disproportionately benefit the rich.
Proposition FF, which would raise $100 million annually to fund free school lunches by hiking taxes on Coloradans making over $300,000 a year, led with 55% of voters in favor as of Wednesday morning.
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The measure was referred to the ballot by the state Legislature and backed by a wide range of nonprofit groups. Advocates say the new state-level program will help provide free, healthy meals to tens of thousands of Colorado children who would otherwise fall through the cracks of school-lunch programs overseen by the federal government.
“This is a massive victory for hungry children,” Ashley Wheeland of Hunger Free Colorado said in a statement. “The Prop FF campaign began and finished as a community-based effort with grassroots and advocacy organizations, non-profits, education service providers and educators sharing their own stories of how school meals for all would help thousands of Colorado children get the food they need to learn. This effort will continue with community partners as Colorado implements the best school nutrition program in the county.”
Proposition FF’s passage marks the first time that Colorado voters have approved a large tax increase that cannot be characterized as a sin tax since the 1992 passage of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, a constitutional amendment that puts a variety of restrictions on tax-hike measures. Previously, voters have rejected efforts to raise income, property and sales taxes to fund education and transportation, while approving measures to raise or levy new taxes on tobacco, marijuana and gambling.
Meanwhile, voters this year also overwhelmingly approved a measure to cut Colorado’s state income tax rate from 4.55% to 4.4%. Proposition 121 is the second such measure to win approval in two years, and Colorado conservatives say they will continue to propose further cuts as they chart a “path to zero” for state income taxes.
“With the cost of living so high, voters clearly want more money back in their pockets,” Michael Fields, president of the conservative Advance Colorado Institute, said in a statement on Proposition 121’s passage. “The overwhelming support for this income tax cut proves that Coloradans are still fiscally conservative. We look forward to putting more tax cuts on the ballot in future years.”
Future tax-related measures, however, will appear differently on Coloradans’ ballots thanks to another change approved by an overwhelming majority of voters on Tuesday.
Proposition GG, referred by the Legislature, adds a requirement that any ballot measure seeking to change state income tax rates include a table summarizing its impacts by income level. The measure passed with over 70% support, unofficial results showed.
In a statement, Colorado Fiscal Institute executive director Kathy White said the result puts Colorado “closer to finally creating a fair tax system.”
“Prop GG’s passage means this is the last time we’ll ever see an income tax cut on the ballot that doesn’t tell voters exactly how much they’ll get versus what the wealthy will get,” White said. “Coloradans across the state said enough is enough when it comes to the ballot withholding information. Now nobody will be forced to dig through legalese to find how a measure will affect their bottom line.”
Tuesday’s unofficial results echo a similar set of outcomes two years ago, when voters approved the repeal of the Gallagher Amendment and a sweeping new paid family leave program while at the same time approving a tax cut and putting new hurdles on state fee mechanisms.
A final major fiscal change on the 2022 ballot, Proposition 123, led by a narrow margin as of early Wednesday, with 50.65% of voters in support and 49.35% opposed. The measure asks voters to dedicate $300 million in annual funding to state affordable-housing initiatives, by tapping into funds that could otherwise be returned under TABOR refund mechanisms.
State budget writers have fretted over the potential impact of passing Proposition 123 alongside an income tax cut. If Propositions 121 and 123 both win passage, lawmakers could be forced into budget cuts as soon as next year, according to a September forecast from the Office of State Planning and Budgeting.
Amendment E, a constitutional amendment that would allow the surviving spouse of a military veteran who died in the line of duty to claim Colorado’s homestead exemption for property taxes, also passed with 67% of the vote on Tuesday.
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