November 5, 2013 Updated: November 6, 2013 at 2:49 pm
DENVER - Colorado voters on Tuesday soundly rejected a $950 million tax increase for education but supported sin-taxes on recreational marijuana sales.
The defeat of Amendment 66 continues a recent trend of Colorado voters rejecting tax increases for education with similar measures going down in flames in 2008 and 2011.
It was a staggering defeat for supporters, who spent $9.4 million in the months leading up to the election and faced little organized opposition.
"One thing we've heard again and again is that perhaps this wasn't the right transaction but no one fought against that vision of what this new universe could look like, or what it could do for our kids," said Gov. John Hickenlooper who put his weight behind the measure. "Every great social victory in the history of this country is based on a number of failures."
Hickenlooper, who faces reelection next year, said the political risk he took supporting Amendment 66 was worth the potential benefit of a world-class education system funded in a groundbreaking way.
State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, a Republican who vocally opposed the tax increase, hopes the state can regroup and find a better way to pay for Colorado's education system.
"I think it's a realization among Colorado voters that this particular ballot question left too many questions unanswered," Stapleton said. "I think that the overriding sense from Coloradans is that they didn't understand where the money was going to go."
Amendment 66 would have increased income taxes from 4.63 percent to 5 percent, but it also created a graduated income tax bracket where income over $75,000 would be taxed at 5.9 percent.
Estimates from the Legislative Council say the tax increase would have generated $950 million in revenue the first year, most of which would have gone directly to local school districts.
Failure of the amendment also means that Senate Bill 213 - an overhaul of the way Colorado funds public schools - won't take effect.
Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, says lawmakers have four years to try and find a way to get the ideas in SB 213 into law. He wouldn't speculate whether that would include asking voters for another tax increase.
"People all believed that those are all good ideas, what we disagreed on was how to pay for them," Johnston said.
Kerrie Dallman of the Colorado Education Association conceded defeat and said, "Regardless of the obstacles put in front of them, our teachers show up every day with the goal of giving our kids the best they can. We know that they will continue showing this commitment - and we look forward to the time when we can give them all of the tools needed to provide every student with a quality education."
Tax increases might be a tough sell in Colorado, but not when it's a sin tax, apparently.
Voters overwhelmingly showed their support for a tax on recreational marijuana. Late Tuesday, about 65 percent favored the 15 percent excise tax and the 10 percent sales tax.
Together the taxes are expected to generate an additional $67 million a year for the state, although estimates are difficult for the fledgling pot market.
Of that, $27.5 million would go to the statewide school construction fund.
Voters approved recreational marijuana in a 2012 constitutional amendment that included a mandate it be taxed, but in Colorado tax increases require a separate vote of the people.
Spirits were high at The Magnolia Hotel, where proponents met Tuesday to monitor election results.
By about 9 p.m., State Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, who drew up the legislation, called Proposition AA a success.
Singer and The Committee for Responsible Regulation kept track of votes in downtown Denver.
"What this does is it takes the pressure off the (state) budget so we can make sure we can continue to fund education," Singer said.
The idea, he said, is "to let marijuana pay its own way in terms of regulation, to make sure the potential legal and health consequences are paid for."