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Initiative to implement progressive state income tax fails to garner enough signatures to qualify for ballot

Derek Draplin | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – Supporters of an effort to implement a progressive state income tax system called it quits on Friday.

The Fair Tax Colorado campaign said it didn’t collect enough signatures to qualify Initiative 271 for the ballot in November, citing a petition process complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The campaign is ending today, but our ballot work will continue,” said the Colorado Fiscal Institute, one of the measure’s backers. “That's because citizen initiatives are where tax policy is made in Colorado, and we need to keep Coloradans engaged on these critical issues.” 

The measure proposed amending the state constitution and adjusting the state’s current 4.63 percent flat income tax rate according to income. Under the measure, taxpayers making $250,000 or less annually would have been taxed at 4.58 percent; those making $250,000 to $500,000 would have taxed at 7 percent. 

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The tax rate would also have increased to 7.75 percent for incomes of $500,000 to $1 million, and 8.9 percent for incomes above $1 million. 

The measure would have raised an estimated $2 billion for fiscal year 2021-22, with half of that revenue going towards education.

“This idea of a fair tax system that adequately funds our schools, roads, health, and human services will endure well beyond Initiative 271,” said Bell Policy Center President Scott Wasserman, another backer of the measure. “Beyond the ballot process, there are numerous opportunities for our legislators to make the tax code less unfair at the Capitol. That work must continue.” 

Wasserman said one of the effort's obstacles was a July Colorado Supreme Court ruling that overturned an executive order by Governor Jared Polis that sought to allow petitioners to collect signatures electronically.

Thursday, around 197,000 signatures were turned in to the Secretary of state’s office to put Initiative 306 on the ballot, a measure that would cut the state income tax rate 4.63 percent to 4.55 percent.

Another group turned in over 196,000 signatures for Initiative 295, called the “Vote on Fees” initiative, that would require voter approval for all state enterprises projected to collect over $100 million.

Michael Fields, executive director of the conservative advocacy group Colorado Rising State Action, a backer of Initiative 295, said Fair Tax Colorado’s failed attempt at a progressive income tax is evidence taxpayers aren’t interested in a tax increase.

“This group was organizing for well over a year and couldn’t get it done. Coloradans clearly don’t want a tax hike. Period,” ​Fields said in a statement.