While Republicans were busy this week defending their new tax plan and the impact it will have on the middle class, Pueblo County is offering seniors and the disabled a deal in paying off their property tax.
The county is promoting a program that allows those over 60 years old or who are disabled to volunteer in exchange for money that can go toward their property taxes. The program started nearly two decades ago and lets 250 people who qualify volunteer at 44 different programs across the county.
County officials say the program is a good resource for seniors and the disabled in Pueblo, not necessarily because there is a high rate of that population not paying property taxes.
Pueblo County Public Information Officer Paris Carmichael told Colorado Politics less than 1 percent of homeowners don’t pay their property taxes. But for those who qualify, there are a plethora of volunteer opportunities, from thrift stores to helping other seniors and hospice care.
And while the program may seem unique, a few other places across the state and nation have adopted something similar.
In Massachusetts, seniors can get up to $1,000 off their property taxes in exchange for volunteer hours. And in Cherry Creek Schools in the Denver area, there’s also a program. Seniors may earn up to $457.05 based on 55 maximum allowed paid volunteer hours once every 12 months, and one payment per property, according to the district.
Washington D.C. think tank The Tax Foundation took a look at a program similar to Pueblo’s in 2009 and said it wasn’t sound tax policy because it’s still considered taxable income.
“We favor broader bases and lower rates, meaning that when possible all income should be taxable, even income earned by senior citizens, so that the tax rate can be as low as possible to minimize economic distortions,” the foundation said.
A new bipartisan bill, Achieving a Vision for Education in Colorado, HB17-1287, sets up an advisory board to create a strategic plan for public education, preschool through college, for implementation up to 2030. The bill recognizes that the 21st century world is “fiercely competitive” and that a “world class highly effective twenty-first-century learning system is the key to Colorado’s economic success.”
The bill also says, “in recent elections, voters have been unwilling to balance local funding with increased amounts of state resources for education.” School districts could argue the opposite — that the state has been unwilling to ask for adequate resources to fund local schools.
The bill states that the current public education system, overall, is mediocre. Educators, bottom to top, can say that public school funding is mediocre. TABOR tax limitations have steadily reduced Colorado’s financial support of its institutions of higher education, leaving students to cover ever-increasing tuition bills and state colleges and universities to seek out-of-state students to bolster revenues.
Public school K-12 students over the last eight years have lost about one year of school funding to the Legislature’s so-called “negative factor,” the amount of money the state should give to public education but can’t because of limited revenue. This underfunding especially affects rural districts and districts with lots of poor kids, such as Aurora School District, which has recently been pummeled by A Plus Colorado for its poor achievement results.
Currently, the state is in a multi-hundred million dollar budget crisis, mostly of TABOR’s making, putting a whole slew of state responsibilities at risk, including rural hospitals, housing support and much abused roads, bridges and highways. The Legislature might get a bill through to increase the state’s sales tax to put more money into transportation. But some tax averse Republicans say the Legislature should be able to pay for transportation out of current revenues. Others ask, “and what might those be?”
Does the education vision bill recognize that Colorado is at a critical tipping point? Our education system can either end up like Kansas or Massachusetts. Currently, Kansas public schools are going bankrupt due to tax cuts that gutted funding. Massachusetts has a dynamic economy and a highly competitive public education platform — from its universities to its urban schools — due to strong public financing.
Maybe it’s time to turn the money conversation on its head. Instead of talking about taxation, it’s time to talk investment. Here is an example. Back in the sixties, former Gov. Pat Brown of California invested in the University of California and the California State College, now University system. UC added UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, UC Irvine and UC San Diego. It recently added UC Merced in the central valley.
Until recently, these public universities provided low-cost, high quality education. California’s community college system, until recently, offered college courses at $20/credit.
Like Colorado, California’s public spending on education was severely constrained by Prop 13, a property tax precursor to TABOR. Unlike Colorado, California’s current governor, Jerry Brown, took the investment issue to voters. California’s citizens authorized billions of dollars in tax increases to spend on transportation and education, a reinvestment commitment bound to pay off for decades.
Colorado likes to grab companies from California. How long will that continue with our “mediocre” public schools? Certainly, there’s a tax point between where we are now and where California is that will provide enough re-investment to reinforce our dynamic economy and end our very poor funding of state responsibilities.
Voters in rural areas of Colorado would continue to be able to approve a property tax of up to five mills to fund mass transit systems in their local communities through 2029, under a bill approved by the House Transportation and Energy Committee Wednesday, Jan.25.
House Bill 17-1018 extends the statutory authority of regional transportation authorities (RTAs) to ask local voters to approve such a tax within a specified area to be served by mass transit. Under current law, RTAs can seek voter approval to levy a property tax until Jan. 1, 2019.
The City and County of Denver's dedicated, permanent, affordable housing fund and program is on track to debut next fall, with new staff members hired, a 23-member advisory committee formed and short- and long-range plans, a City Council committee was told Wednesday, Nov. 30.
Rick Padilla, housing director in the Office of Economic Development, and Laura Brudzynski, a community development staffer in the office, updated the Safety, Housing, Education and Homeless Committee on those efforts.
When it comes to creatively advancing the quality of education in Colorado, we need to consider ways of making a level playing field for children to thrive.
Colorado has a network of strongly performing charter schools when it comes to both academic rigor and healthy student culture. Many of them have won impressive awards for test scores, sports and teacher performance. However, one of the greatest challenges these schools face is the ability to have facilities that appropriately meet their educational needs.