EducationElection 2018News

Denver chamber leads sales tax hike for local scholarships

Author: Joey Bunch - June 20, 2018 - Updated: June 20, 2018

Scholarship money(Photo courtesy of Creative Commons)

The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and other partners will announce Wednesday they’re ready to ask city voters in November to pass a 0.08 Denver sales tax hike to help local kids get a higher education.

A kickoff rally for the campaign called Prosperity Denver is set for 1 p.m. at 9th Street Park on the Auraria Campus in Denver. To get on the ballot, supporters had to turn in at least 4,726 valid petition signatures, which is equal to 5 percent of the total votes cast for mayor in the last election.

The fund would help Denver residents attend a Colorado-accredited public or nonprofit two- or four-year college or technical school. The request includes a caveat that the tax would have to be reauthorized by voters after 12 years. Registered as the Denver College Affordability Fund, the tax would raise an estimated $13.9 million for scholarships the first year, with a 5 percent cap on administrative costs.

The proposal limits the age of applicants to 25 and to those who can demonstrate living in Denver for 36 months before their first class. Need is also a consideration in the grants.

“Too many Colorado students face huge financial hurdles to entering and completing postsecondary degree or certificate programs,” Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “And yet three-quarters of our jobs will require such a degree. We are excited to pilot a program in Denver that ensures our kids get the chance they deserve to truly compete for those jobs.”

Organizers of the tax request effort said fewer than half of Denver residents younger than 25 have at least a bachelor’s degree.

“Rising costs are creating a growing gap between those who can afford post-secondary education and those who can’t, and that gap increases our city’s challenges with income disparity and affordable housing,” stated former Denver School Board member Rosemary Rodriguez. “We must do better by our young people, and Prosperity Denver has the key that will open doors to post-secondary education for men and women across the city.”

At the rally, Brough and Rodriguez are expected to be joined by Lorii Rabinowitz, CEO of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, and Hollis Booker, chairman, of the Delta Eta Boulé Foundation.

Denver voters could face a barrage of tax requests:

  • The Denver chamber also is leading a coalition asking for a 0.62 statewide hike in sales taxes for transportation.
  • State Rep. Leslie Herod of Denver is leading an effort to ask for a 0.25-cent sales tax increase for mental health and opioid abuse aid in the city.
  • Denver has a plan to raise the city’s 3.5 percent special tax on recreational marijuana sales to 5.5 percent to help pay for an expansion of the city’s 10-year, $150 million affordable housing goal.
  • Denver voters also are being asked to approve a 0.08 sales tax to lure healthier food stores to Denver.
  • Volunteers also are gathering signatures for the Great Schools, Thriving Communities initiative, which would raise $1.6 billion statewide for education through income, corporate and property tax increases.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.