Colorado Proposition FF: Early results lean toward providing universal free meals to students

Colorado voters are in favor of Proposition FF so far, which would provide the state’s students with free school meals — no matter their families’ incomes. With tax deduction limits in place, the price tag would fall on wealthy Coloradans.

About 56% of voters back the measure, with 635,446 votes, as of 8 p.m. MST, according to unofficial results on the Colorado Secretary of State’s website.

The initiative would establish and fund the Healthy School Meals for All Program. It would boost taxes for households with incomes higher than $300,000 by curbing state income tax deductions. The move would impact about 114,000 joint and single-filer tax returns, or about 5% of those filed in Colorado.

It would hike the overall tax burden of those households by more than $800 for those with incomes of $300,000 to $499,000, and round up to an average of more than $1,150 for those with $1 million or more in annual income.

Ashley Wheeland, director of public policy at Hunger Free Colorado, said the initiative would not only help reduce food insecurity in the “expensive” Centennial State, but would also “remove shame for low-income students.”

She pointed to the federal government’s temporary decision to offer students free school lunches during the coronavirus pandemic, which “showed this works.”

Wheeland added that the proposition was penned by Colorado’s policymakers, anti-hunger advocates and community-based organizations “to help our district’s school nutrition departments meet their students’ needs.”

The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Board of Directors also endorsed the initiative, as it would “allow school districts to use their meal funding to invest in their communities.”

It would also strengthen the state’s regional food systems and local economies, while “creating a link to community agricultural producers,” the board wrote.

Jon Caldara, president of Denver-based libertarian think tank Independence Institute, called the proposition “wrong” in many ways.

While he concedes that children from low-income families “should have help,” Caldara argues that the current system already serves those kids free or reduced-cost meals, on top of support from food banks, county and city programs and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

The proposition instead “taxes rich families to buy lunches for other rich families,” Caldara wrote in an emailed statement. “Middle, upper and high income families shouldn’t be put on the dole.”

He pointed to one potential consequence as “encouraging wealthy families to stop giving to charity” since tax deductions, including charitable deductions, are limited.

The measure needed a simple majority to pass after being referred to voters by the legislature. A prior bill to pay for universal meals with general fund money stalled.

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