Reject 60, 61 and 101
Today, we knowingly violate the rule relegating editorials to the editorial page because we hope to shout from the highest point our opposition to Amendments 60, 61 and Proposition 101. We have chosen this unorthodox approach in order to underscore for our readers the tectonic effect passage of these measures would have on our state. We don’t violate journalism tradition lightly; the stakes here demand it.
Proponents of the three ballot measures will no doubt accuse us of scare tactics, as they have anyone who criticizes the measures. But there is ample reason to be scared if you value a state with adequate law enforcement and judicial systems, respected higher education, good schools, functional roads, responsive local governments and a healthy private sector.
How scary are they? Consider this from Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger, who is already reducing staff and services due to current budget cuts:
“If these measures pass, I will have to seriously consider getting out of the business of appearing in county court.” Everything from traffic offenses to misdemeanor thefts and domestic violence cases are tried in county courts. Statutes require a district attorney to handle all cases in district court, but don’t mandate handling of county court cases, Hautzinger said. With the budget cuts that would result from these measures, there probably won’t be adequate resources to cover both, he said.
The impacts listed below come from the nonpartisan Legislative Council’s Blue Book analysis of the ballot measures.
This one requires school districts to roll back property taxes by 50 percent over the next 10 years. Not to worry, proponents say. The revenue lost from the rollback will be made up with state funding.
Right. Everyone knows how cash-strapped the state is already. Currently, Colorado spends 46 percent of its operating budget on kindergarten-through 12th-grade education. If Amendment 60 passes, that will rise to 67 percent over the next decade. Other state functions such as prisons, law enforcement, health care and higher education will have to be cut to make up the difference. If Proposition 101 passes, the impact will be even greater.
—Amendment 60 would repeal TABOR overrides that voters have already approved in school districts, cities, counties or special districts that allow government entities to keep property taxes in excess of TABOR limits. Choices voters have already made in specific locales would be superseded by a statewide ballot measure. Also, any future TABOR overrides could only last a set number of years, even if voters wanted them to be permanent. Local options would be reduced.
—Amendment 60 would require all public entities — colleges, school districts, cities, counties, airports and special districts — to pay property taxes on their land and buildings. This would raise billions of dollars of new revenue. However, the government entities receiving the new revenue would have to reduce their mill levies to offset it.
It makes little sense to take money from one taxpayer pocket to put it in another pocket.
Public debt is eating up our tax dollars, the backers of this measure claim. Proponents point to the fact that there is currently $17 billion in state debt. Much of it, they say, was undertaken “without voter approval.”
—Actually, Colorado voters have approved large amounts of state debt. In 1999, an overwhelming majority of Coloradans approved Trans bonds for constructing new highways. As a result, billions of dollars of highway improvements were completed in every corner of the state.
If Amendment 61 passes, we could not approve such a funding plan again.
—Other borrowing has occurred through state enterprises, entities which are legally allowed under TABOR.
One such enterprise is Mesa State College, which has borrowed against student fees and other revenue — not taxpayer funds — to build dormitories, revamp classrooms and construct the new student center. But none of that borrowing would be allowed if Amendment 61 passes.
That will mean less construction jobs and fewer new facilities that could help attract more students and faculty, bringing more revenue to this community in the future.
—Amendment 61 prohibits lease-purchase agreements and certificates of participation for local governments. Grand Junction is using them to pay for a new public safety facility. Mesa County and School District 51 have also used them, without raising taxes.
Voter-approved bonds for local-government capital projects would be allowed under the amendment, but only for 10-year terms. That’s like telling a homebuyer, “You can have a mortgage, but only for 10 years.” The payments would be too steep to make it feasible.
When the Legislature raised vehicle fees last year, The Daily Sentinel and many others argued it was a mistake during a recession. There has been discussion of rolling back those increases.
—However, Proposition 101 goes far beyond rolling the fees back to the 2008 level. It would reduce them to $10 per vehicle, no matter how expensive a vehicle one drives.
—Proposition 101 also reduces the state income tax from 4.63 percent to 3.5 percent over several years. It eliminates state and local telecommunications taxes except those for 911 fees. It reduces vehicle specific ownership taxes and sales taxes collected by local governments.
The result will be billions in lost revenue for highways, roads and bridges. There will be less money for higher education in Colorado, where state funding already is 48th out of 50 states. Local services will also diminish.
If all three ballot items pass, a Colorado household with income of $55,000 and a house valued at $295,000 will eventually see a combined annual reduction in taxes and fees of $1,360.
But the cost to state and local government — $5.5 billion a year when fully implemented — and the resulting deterioration in our quality of life, government services, our ability to attract new businesses, college students and tourists, will more than offset any personal monetary gain.
For your future and the future of Colorado, we urge everyone to vote against Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101.