Eagle County governments despise ballot measures
August 9, 2010
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Local governments and authorities are quivering at the thought that three statewide ballot initiatives could pass this November.
Supporters are touting Proposition 101 and Amendments 60 and 61 as government checks and balances and economic boosters. Opponents say the ballot initiatives will harm local economies far beyond the harm that has already been done over the last two years.
The town of Vail has been trying to stay ahead by having a plan in place to “defease” town debt, meaning the town would set aside money it still owes to bondholders with a trustee. The move would protect the town from Amendment 61, which limits the amount of debt that municipalities can have and includes a provision that governments must reduce taxes by the amount equal to the annual debt service.
If the ballot initiatives pass, Vail Finance Director Judy Camp estimate it would cost the town more than $6.5 million in annual revenues.
The Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority passed a resolution advocating voter opposition to the three ballot initiatives in June, citing that the initiatives “threaten to impair the authority’s ability to construct, maintain and upgrade the services and facilities being provided for the health, safety and welfare of current and future authority residents,” said Vice Chairman Bill Simmons.
Eagle County School District Chief Financial Officer Phil Onofrio said Amendment 61 would prevent the district from borrowing from the state’s no interest loan program to pay teacher salaries, benefits and other expenses – something the district does every year because it needs the money prior to the date it receives annual property tax revenues.
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It’s like a temporary loan, Onofrio said, because the district repays the money in March when property tax revenues start coming in.
Colorado Mountain College’s Board of Trustees also passed a resolution stating all three ballot initiatives would damage Colorado’s state and local governments from funding the most basic levels of services related to safety, education and transportation.
The trustees agreed the initiatives could cause a loss of Colorado’s competitive standing to attract employers, “significantly hampering economic growth,” according to the resolution.
The town of Avon also passed a resolution in June opposing the initiatives, with Town Manager Larry Brooks staying the measures would limit future job growth and economic development activity.
Cotaxreforms.com, the website promoting all three initiatives, sites that Amendment 60 will restore fair, honest tax elections, stop taxation by unelected boards, replace some school taxes by state aid and end illegal tax hikes that lack voter approval.
Amendment 61, according to the website, would revive a 135-year-old ban on state borrowing; require voter approval before local borrowing; limit the form, term and amount of borrowing; plus repay all state and local borrowing.
And Proposition 101, according to the website, would set car registrations at $10 flat, cut car taxes in four years, trim income tax rates and end taxes and fees on phones, pagers and cable bills.
Beaver Creek resident and supporter Seeme Hasan said Amendment 60 would be good for Eagle County by allowing the county to hold onto local tax money that has previously been funneled to school districts on the Front Range.
Hasan learned about the initiatives while her son, Ali, was running for state treasurer. He didn’t win a nomination, but Seeme Hasan has continued to voice her support.
“None of the other candidates were endorsing it,” she said. “I was really disappointed that Republicans weren’t supporting it.”
The other measures, Amendment 61 and Proposition 101, would keep government spending where it should be kept – in check, she said.
“Government spending is out of control in America and here in Eagle County,” she said. “Governments can’t promise everyone everything.”
Seeme Hasan said if local governments and authorities don’t like the measures, she challenges them to come up with something better.
The local jurisdictions are especially concerned that voters might see the measures, especially Proposition 101, as saving them a few bucks, not realizing the implications to public services and the overall economy, said Kelly Jean Brough, president and chief executive officer of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
“When you go to vote, they can sound pretty good, until you translate what it means for the state,” Brough said. “It’s the short-term benefit people see for themselves versus the long-term consequences. The business community is doing everything to defeat these (ballot measures).”
Brough said Amendment 60 would reduce school district funding by 50 percent and Amendment 61 would make Colorado the only state in the country that can’t issue debt.
But supporters said Amendment 61 would still allow for borrowing via voter approval.
“This is saying (to governments), live in your means,” Hasan said. “And if you need the money up front, then ask the voters.”
Hasan said the ballot initiatives will force governments to stop going into so much debt.
“We don’t want to give permission to any county to just go borrow whatever you want,” Hasan said.
But Brough said governments issue debt to build capital, to invest in something.
The debt is paid off from a long-term income from whatever revenue stream pays for that debt.
“My fear is that the average person might not understand the difference between debt and deficit spending – they are very different,” Brough said.
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.