A look at Colorado’s ballot measures
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Colorado has nine statewide ballot initiatives this year, meaning voters have the chance to affect everything from property taxes to local government debt to motor vehicle licensing fees.
At first glance, Amendments 60 and 61, and Proposition 101, might sound like a good idea to voters who are looking to save a few bucks, but more than 500 organizations, governments, school districts and unions across the state have spoken out against them.
The towns of Vail, Avon, Minturn, Eagle, Gypsum, as well as Eagle County, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, local fire departments and the Eagle County School District, have all spoken out against the measures.
Colorado Springs businessman and small government activist Doug Bruce is rumored to be behind the three controversial initiatives, but Bruce hasn’t come forward as the mastermind or as a contributor to the campaign. Proponents have also refused to provide their names when responding to Vail Daily questions via an anonymous e-mail address.
The following descriptions of statewide ballot initiatives, as well as proponent and opponent viewpoints, are taken directly from research done by the Bell Policy Center, a Denver-based nonprofit research firm. Drew Clark, a Boulder Republican who has researched the issues and hosted bipartisan informational meetings on them both locally and on the Front Range, provided many of the pros and cons listed, and information from Colorado’s Blue Book is also included.
Would amend the state constitution to transfer authority over games of chance (including bingo and raffles) from the Department of State to the Department of Revenue and authorizes the legislature to make future changes in the law.
Proponents say the Department of Revenue regulates other types of gaming and is best suited to regulate bingos and raffles.
Opponents say the Department of State has successfully regulated bingos and raffles for 50 years and changes now would impose unnecessary costs.
Would amend the state constitution to create a process for temporarily moving the seat of government in a disaster emergency.
Proponents say it would expedite the moving process in an emergency by avoiding a statewide vote.
Opponents say all three branches of government already have authority to manage their operations in case of an emergency.
Would amend the state constitution to exempt from property taxation individuals or businesses that use government-owned property for private purposes when the market value of the benefit is $6,000 or less.
Proponents say this would eliminate taxes that often cost local governments more to collect than they bring in.
Opponents say a small tax bill does not justify nonpayment. This would give an unfair break to people who receive a private benefit on government land.
Amendment 60 would cut property taxes for public schools in half by 2020 and require the state’s general fund to make up the difference lost. It would also require enterprises and authorities – such as schools or water districts, for example – to pay property taxes, yet would require governments to reduce tax rates to ensure no net increase in revenues.
Once fully implemented, Amendment 60 would save the average homeowner $376 and an average commercial business would save about $5,106 less in annual property taxes.
• Cuts local property taxes for public schools in half by 2020 and requires the state to make up the difference of about $1.6 billion out of the General Fund.
Pro: Property taxes are the most hated taxes. Schools wouldn’t lose revenue because the state would make up the difference.
Con: This wouldn’t reduce overall taxes, but merely shift them to the state’s General Fund, thus crowding out other important portions of state funding and public services. The combined effect of all three state ballot initiatives passing would mean 92 percent of the state budget would eventually go toward K-12 education, leaving about $38 million left over to fund everything from transportation, corrections, Medicaid, higher education, health care and more.
To meet the increased obligation to schools, the state would have to decrease spending and services in those other areas, increase fees for services or some combination of the two.
• Property tax increases, extensions and abatement rates that have passed since TABOR was passed in 1992 shall expire.
Pro: The 2008 Mill Levy Tax Freeze was an unconstitutional grab of a huge increase in tax revenues without voter approval.
Con: Amendment 60 lumps all de-TABOR votes since 1992 together, ignoring the will of the voters in many cases who voted for de-TABOR issues. For example. 76 percent of municipalities, 81 percent of counties and 98 percent of school districts have passed de-TABOR issues. Amendment 60 would cause all of those votes to expire and would thus confront voters with dozens of tax issues all at once.
• Limit future retention to four years and future tax increases to 10 years
Pro: Tax revenue overages will expire in four years, and tax rate increases will expire in 10 years.
Con: It means local government can’t incur debts with repayment schedules any longer than 10 years.
Pro: This requires government to keep coming back to the voters for approval of tax rates and extensions and revenue levels. Original TABOR language had a four-year limit. Districts misled voters to give up their tax refunds forever.
Con: Every election is an expensive undertaking. Why shouldn’t voters give approval for ongoing tax rates?
• Requires enterprises and authorities to pay property taxes and requires governments to reduce property tax rates to ensure no net increase in revenues
Pro: More fairness between public and private sector. For example, a privately owned recreation center or golf course currently has to pay property taxes while competing against a tax subsidized municipal recreation center or golf course.
Con: If an enterprise or authority is fulfilling a vital state function, it makes no sense to load it down with property taxes.
Pro: Enables the average person to challenge governmental action without fear of financial ruin.
Con: Taxpayers ultimately bear the brunt of the cost of legal actions.
Proponents say: Property taxes are unfair because they are based on property value rather than ability to pay. This would reduce that burden and help some homeowners and renters. School won’t suffer because the still will make up the difference of the lost revenues.
Opponents say: Colorado schools would lose $1.5 billion in local funding each year, resulting in fewer teachers and larger classes. The state will not be able to replenish the funds without practically eliminating other critical public services like health and human services, corrections, transportation and Medicaid.
• Bans the use of any kind of debt financing by the state of Colorado, including certificates of participation used for roads and buildings, short-term financing vehicles the treasurer uses to manage cash flow for the state and local school districts.
Pro: This closes a loophole that has allowed the state to get around debt restrictions by labeling debt with other names.
Con: If this passes, Colorado would be the only state with no ability to borrow.
• Reduces local government debt financing limits by about 60 percent, limiting debt to a maximum of 10 years.
Pro: Government shouldn’t be loading perpetual debt onto taxpayers. Every tax increase should have a definite and short life-span. Amendment 61 would help keep government’s tax revenues from outpacing inflation and economic growth, as they do now.
Con: Shorter terms for debt may mean a higher tax rate. Costs for public projects would explode, and some projects, such as schools or prisons, might get pushed aside when they should be at the top of the list.
• Requires local governments to automatically cut tax rates when debts are repaid.
Pro: As debts are paid off, tax rates go down. With the common current practice of governments repeatedly seeking extensions of taxes even long after the original purpose has been met, taxes seem to continue to go up, not down.
Con: Paying off debt is good, but so many so many current services by local governments depend on the ability to use long-term financing.
Con: Unemployment benefits are often paid by the state after borrowing from the federal government. This would be banned and could jeopardize unemployment benefits.
Pro: State government spending shouldn’t be tied to federal policies.
Proponents say the amendment would protect citizens from government overspending and force government to live within its means.
Opponents say it prohibits sound borrowing practices like short-term leases, cash flow loans and certificates used for building public projects. They also point to Colorado’s constitution, which requires the state to have a balanced budget each year.
The so-called Personhood Amendment would extend certain rights under the Colorado Bill of Rights to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.
Pro: The amendment text is short and to the point.
Con: The phrase “beginning of biological development” is vague and untested in the courts.
Pro and/or con: The measure could establish the legal foundation to ban abortions in the state of Colorado.
Proponents (www.personhoodcolorado.com) say the amendment would end abortion and protect all innocent life, and that all human beings, no matter what stage of development, are valuable and should have the same rights.
Opponents say the beginning of “biological development” has no medical or legal meaning and the amendment would insert government into private health decisions. The measure would restrict many procedures, including cancer treatment and in-vitro fertilization, and would ban most forms of contraception.
• Would prohibit the state from requiring participation in public or private health plans and from restricting direct payment for health services.
Proponents say it would protect Coloradans from a government takeover of health care and that the free market has better health care solutions than government.
Opponents say it’s a partisan political statement that has no place in the constitution and would increase lawsuits, reduce coverage and drive up costs for families.
• Would cut state income taxes, motor vehicle taxes and fees and telecommunications fees.
• All registration, license and title charges would be $10 flat per year, per vehicle.
Pro: It doesn’t even cost the state $10 to process vehicle registrations.
Con: The state provides a lot of services with the money collected from the licensing fees. A $10 fee would take us back to the rate in 1919.
• The results mean Colorado’s general fund revenues would decrease by 23 percent – the same fund that pays for schools, colleges, universities, health, human services, corrections and other operations.
• Would cut state funding for roads and bridges by 27 percent, as well as varying cuts to local funding for such projects, according Bell Policy Center research.
• Would cut general revenue to cities, counties and school districts throughout Colorado by more than $900 million per year.
Pro: The proposition would allow taxpayers to keep and spend more of their own money. Since government will spend every dollar available to them, the only answer is to “starve the beast.”
Con: State revenues would decrease by nearly $2 billion once fully implemented, and local government revenue would decrease by about $1 billion once fully implemented.
Con: It would require the state to spend more, even when revenues are way down.
Proponents say these taxes disproportionately affect low-income people and that 101 would reduce the unfairness and provide relief for all taxpayers. They say 101 would also help create jobs as people begin to spend more because of tax savings.
Opponents say 101 would require significant cuts in essential services like schools, health, human services and corrections. They say it would make it almost impossible to repair the state’s 128 structurally deficient bridges and that rural communities and disabled citizens could lose basic telephone services.
• Would change state law so that only those arrested for first offenses that are non-violent misdemeanors may be released to pretrial services programs instead of posting secured bonds.
Proponents say pretrial services use tax dollars and allow people accused of crimes to avoid paying bail, even if they are repeat offenders.
Opponents say pretrial services are effective and ensure that defendants appear in court. This is unnecessary, costly and will hurt low-income defendants, and additional jail time will cost governments $2.8 million a year.
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or email@example.com.