- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2011

DENVER — Colorado’s Proposition 103, the biggest tax-increase proposal of the off-year November election, was headed to a sound defeat early Wednesday, an indication that voters still expect government to solve its economic woes with spending cuts instead of revenue increases.

The measure, which would have raised state sales and income taxes to fund education, was losing by a margin of 65 percent to 35 percent with 59 percent of precincts reporting.

The vote on Proposition 103 was being monitored closely nationwide as activists in other states contemplate their own tax-hike initiatives. Efforts to place tax increases on the 2012 ballot are already under way in Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho and South Dakota.

Like many other states, Colorado swung strongly to the right in the 2010 elections, allowing Republicans to pick up the state House, two congressional seats, and all three statewide offices below the gubernatorial contest. They also came within 30,000 votes of unseating incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.

Tuesday’s vote appears to indicate that the mood of the electorate remains conservative, a worrisome sign for President Obama, who won Colorado in 2008 and is counting on the traditional swing state as part of his re-election strategy. The Democratic president has visited the state twice since late September.

“If Proposition 103 loses, it suggests that within the core voting group, those themes of ‘limited government’ and ‘no new taxes’ are still dominant,” said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli.

“Any gleaning that’s done will have one significant caveat, and that is that the number of people who turn out today will be half the number of people who turn out a year from now,” said Mr. Ciruli. “Even though the Democrats worked very hard to get the vote out, it will be an older electorate and a whiter one. You won’t have as many young voters or minority voters.”

Sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Rollie Heath, Proposition 103 would raise the state income tax from 4.63 to 5 percent and the state sales-tax rate from 2.9 percent to 3 percent. Both increases would expire in five years. The estimated $3 billion it would raise is designated for K-12 and higher education, although critics note that the additional revenue would go into the general fund, meaning that it could be used for anything.

Initially dismissed as a political non-starter, Proposition 103 appeared to pick up steam in the final weeks of the campaign. The two state teachers unions, which had at first stayed out of the race, finally agreed to endorse the measure and have contributed more than $90,000 to the campaign, according to the latest fundraising report.

The campaign has raised more than $600,000, far outstripping the opposition, which has collected only about $25,000.

Despite its fundraising advantage, Proposition 103 trailed consistently by a handful of percentage points in the polls. Few leading Democrats supported the initiative - Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper remained steadfastly neutral - while Republicans were uniformly opposed.