The COVID-19 global pandemic has spread across the country, and Colorado has not been spared. Over 38,000 coronavirus cases have been reported in our state, with over 1,700 deaths, and no end in sight.
We aren’t just facing an unprecedented health crisis – for many, especially families with low incomes, the economic impact has been just as devastating. In just two months, over 370,000 over our citizens applied for unemployment benefits. The unemployment rate remains north of 10%.
The economic carnage hasn’t stopped there. Lost income and staying “safer at home” mean lost revenue from taxes on income, sales, and other sources. The General Assembly has been forced to cut the state’s already precarious budget by over $3 billion. For comparison, the budget declined by about $1 billion during the 2008 Great Recession.
Those budget cuts come at the expense of our already underfunded core and crucial services.
Before the virus, starting salaries for Colorado teachers already ranked among the bottom tier of the 50 states. Funding for K-12 education has been cut another $583 million, almost a 10% reduction.
Our public colleges, which have seen state funding dwindling for years, will receive yet another $1.34 billion less. State infrastructure projects, with many already on hold, have been cut by another $223 million.
The legislature’s Joint Budget Committee has predicted that this cacophony of crises will be worse next year.
In a legislative session shortened by the virus, the General Assembly did what it could to mitigate the economic impact, such as closing some tax loopholes. Yet the hole left in the state budget is still gaping.
Does this mean that we are now helpless to provide any further defense to the devastation wrought by the virus? It does not.
A proposed ballot initiative will go a long way to fill the gap in state revenues. Initiative 271 will restore a state graduated income tax, one that is fair and just.
It will cut income taxes for over 97% of Coloradans, providing some relief to those who need it most. The richest 3% of our taxpayers will be asked to pay a little more to help us get through this difficult time together.
While the extra paid by any individual may be relatively modest, in total the tax would generate about $2 billion more in annual state revenues. The proposed graduated income tax structure has been endorsed by over 130 organizations throughout the state.
The immediate problem is that the process of gathering the required petition signatures began at almost the same the time that COVID-19 was engulfing the state. The virus has substantially hindered the petition gathering process. Little time remains.
Now is not the time to do nothing, to cede economic defeat to a virus. We, the people of Colorado, can respond to the virus right now, by raising up our most powerful weapon: the pen.
At www.fairtaxcolorado.org you can learn how to safely sign a petition for Initiative 271. Together, we can help heal the COVID-19 economic wounds.
Steve Briggs is a retired Colorado Court of Appeals judge. In his volunteer work, he has served as President of the Colorado Bar Association and Chair of The Colorado Commission on Judicial Performance. He lives in Denver.
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