Senate Majority Leader Rollie Heath Visits Chamber Board

Nov 19, 2013 | Economy, Government & Policy

At the meeting of the Chamber’s Board of Directors yesterday, State Senate Majority Leader Rollie Heath stopped in for a visit. Senator Heath is a Democrat from Boulder and has been a champion for education reform, including Amendment 66, which failed at the polls two weeks ago.

Senator Heath is doing a listening tour around the state.

The conversation about education reform was a good one. We all agreed that strong public education is important to the future of Colorado. After that, opinions diverged in terms of how to make that happen. The senator asked board members why they thought Amendment 66 failed. That opened the flood gates – too big ($1 billion per year), too long (as in ‘forever’), it would have locked an even higher level of funding for education into the constitution, they didn’t earn broad based business support, they didn’t address the issue of the Gallagher Amendment that has unfairly shifted the property tax burden onto business, the two-tiered income tax in Amendment 66 unfairly targeted small companies, it was a huge amount of money for no promised results relative to education attainment by students, etc.

It was a very positive but direct conversation. Senator Heath was gracious and took it all in stride. He seemed genuinely interested in knowing why people didn’t support Amendment 66.

I was left wishing that the legislative majority and the education community that backed this measure had done a better job of listening BEFORE putting such a huge tax increase on the ballot. But, they had the votes in the legislature to push this issue forward along a straight party vote and had enough deep-pocket supporters to throw $12 million to get try to convince voters to pass the tax measure. Righteousness and a big war chest apparently looked like a winner.

Senator Heath seemed convinced that they just need to sharpen their message. But when 65 percent of voters give a resounding NO, it’s not really about the message. The education reform package and tax increase to pay for it were the problem. Tweaking the message won’t help.

Maybe education reformers will come back someday with another proposal. If they try, here’s hoping they get outside the political echo chamber that is Denver and genuinely listen to the needs of Coloradoans, not just the education lobby.

Senator Heath’s visit was a good indication in that regard.

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