The Mike Johnston-Walker Stapleton road show stopped off at KOA Radio Tuesday morning for another round of the debate on Amendment 66 that the two men have been having around the state.
Johnston, a Democratic state senator from Denver, is the author of Senate Bill 13-213, the education reform law that’s twinned with A66, and is probably the most peripatetic speaker among A66 supporters. Republican Stapleton is state treasurer and one of the amendment’s higher profile critics.
Their 40-minute debate on the show of conservative host Mike Rosen was generally friendly and hashed over lots of familiar points. If you’re among the many who haven’t seen them in person, here’s a recap of their arguments.
Importance of A66
Johnston – Calling the amendment “an historic opportunity,” he said, “We’ve enacted some of the most dramatic education reforms in the country [but] we’ve at the same time seen historic cuts in K-12 education. … Parents are starting to feel these cuts more and more. It’s time to build a new system.”
Stapleton – Saying the election is “one of the most important fiscal votes that Coloradans will have an opportunity to take,” he added, “This amendment, though well meaning, amounts to a billion dollar tax increase and a host of unanswered questions.”
The treasurer has made a crusade about what he believes are the looming financial threats posed by the unfunded liabilities of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, which covers all teachers and many other public employees. He believes a 2010 law intended to shore up the system over several decades is based on unrealistic assumptions about return on PERA investments.
Stapleton – “This extra liability is the thousand-pound gorilla in the room that nobody wants to talk about.” He suggested that school finance and pension reform somehow should have been combined in Johnston’s plan.
Johnston – “There is more discussion to be had on the pension question … but it needs to be looked at separately” from school funding. He also noted that planned increases in school district contributions to PERA are coming regardless of whether A66 passes.
Stapleton – “It’s impossible to separate the two.”
A66 would raise the state’s current income tax rate from 4.63 percent on all income to 5 percent on adjusted income up to $75,000 a year. Income over that level would be taxed at 5.9 percent. Amendment supporters have widely claimed that would mean an additional $133 a year in taxes for the average family.
Stapleton – “I believe the $133 is pretty misleading,” he said, calling it “a scenario that’s tailored to sound minimal,” while higher-income citizens would be “paying far more.”
Johnston – After a somewhat murky exchange about marginal tax rates, he said, “What regular voters care about is ‘What is my total tax burden,’” saying 95 percent of voters make less than $100,000 a year.
Stapleton (and Rosen) got it a few digs at the Colorado Education Association over a possible union lawsuit challenging part of another piece of Johnston legislation, the state’s educator evaluation law. They questioned CEA’s motives in considering a court challenge to part of that law while strongly supporting A66. Johnston basically said the evaluation law is lawsuit-proof but avoided speculating on CEA’s motives. (Get more info on this somewhat arcane controversy in this EdNews story.)
Stapleton and Johnston debated twice in Denver Tuesday, and Johnston went a third round with Independence Institute chief Jon Caldara, who’s been tag-teaming with Stapleton on the debate circuit.