CU leaders balk at Proposition 103


Despite the ongoing budget crisis throttling public higher education in the state, neither the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents nor its president is endorsing Proposition 103, which would raise about $3 billion for education, including higher education.

The ballot measure, spearheaded by Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, would raise the state income tax from 4.63 percent to 5 percent and the state sales tax from 2.9 percent to 3 percent, returning them to 1999 levels for five years.

CU President Bruce Benson has announced that he expects the university’s budget to be cut by another $30 million to $50 million next year. The CU system receives only about 5 percent of its budget from the state.

But some Republican members of the Board of Regents are balking at Proposition 103, raising the question: Are even minor tax increases so politically unpalatable to the right wing that those elected to serve as financial stewards of the state’s flagship university are opposing a possible budget fix?

CU spokesperson Ken McConnellogue told Boulder Weekly that Benson, a Republican, “would not have much to say on the issue, other than while he appreciates any efforts to get more money into the higher education system, the Board of Regents is divided on the ballot measure and therefore he is not taking a position.”

It wouldn’t be uncharted territory for the board to take a stand on a ballot measure. In 2005, the regents supported Referendum C, the time-out on state budget constraints in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, and former CU President Hank Brown was one of the primary cheerleaders for the referendum. In 2006, the board took a stance against Amendment 41, and last year, the regents publicly opposed Proposition 101 and Amendments 60 and 61.

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education and the governing boards of several state colleges have endorsed Proposition 103.

Kyle Hybl, chair of the board and a Republican, says the board won’t take a position on the initiative, in part because the regents don’t meet again until after the election. Hybl does acknowledge opposing the proposition, though.

“The question is, what does one need to do to stabilize public higher ed?” he says. “I don’t think, for public higher ed, that 103 is the answer. I think its focus is more K-12 than higher ed.”

When asked whether it is politically damaging for a Republican to support a tax increase, Hybl replies, “Different people would have different answers on that.

I think it depends on if one can demonstrate the effectiveness with which dollars will be used, if it’s a true benefit to whatever the dollars would be applied to.”

In response to a question about what alternative he would prefer for fixing higher ed funding, Hybl says, “In an ideal world, we’ll put people back to work and we’ll have more people paying into the current system we have, which will improve the economy, and, as a result improve the revenue higher ed receives.”

One Republican regent, Steve Bosley, declined to say where he stands on the proposition. The other four regents who returned calls from Boulder Weekly were evenly divided on the measure. The two Democrats, Steve Ludwig and Joe Neguse, say they support it, while the two Republicans, Tillie Bishop and Sue Sharkey, oppose it.

Bishop cited the economic downturn as a bad time to raise taxes, and said it is not a politically charged issue.

“I think Democrats are hurting as much as Republicans,” he says.

Sharkey says she doesn’t believe that “taxing the citizens of Colorado is the way to increase prosperity.”

On the other hand, Ludwig says it’s a very modest increase, there is never a good time to raise taxes, and employers look at education when deciding to relocate to Colorado.

“The Grand Junction Sentinel endorsed Proposition 103, and they’re not known for their left-leaning attributes,” Ludwig says.