The cold facts on hot ballot measures
An analysis of the nine measures on this fall’s ballot, and what they could cost state and local governments, will be coming to voters’ mailboxes in the next two weeks.
Each year, the Legislative Council, the nonpartisan research arm of the Colorado Legislature, publishes its Blue Book with its detailed analysis of what each of the pending measures on the fall ballot would do.
This year, voters will decide when a person is a person, whether they want to slash taxes and limit debt, how the courts should use bail-bonding services and whether the state would try to opt out of the new federal health care reform law.
The most controversial of those measures are Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101.
When fully implemented, which could take decades, the measures would impact state government by more than $3.7 billion, according to the council’s fiscal-impact statements on each. The measures also would cost local governments and school districts millions of dollars more and limit their ability to borrow, while banning it altogether for the state.
“The fiscal impacts pretty much confirm what we thought the magnitude was going to be, and the combination of them is going to be horrible,” said Henry Sobanet, who was budget director for former Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, and now works with Coloradans for Responsible Reform, the main group opposed to the measure. “You’re looking at billions in either less revenues or new obligations on the general fund. It’s money the state doesn’t have.”
Sobanet said that while the Blue Book’s analysis is thorough, it didn’t include everything he would have liked. For instance, while it says the measures would lead to fewer state and private-sector jobs, it doesn’t say by how much. He said his own analysis showed as many as 73,000 government and private-sector jobs would be gone virtually overnight.
“The loss of bonding and the loss of transportation dollars, these are private-sector jobs affected, people out of work,” he said. “People don’t realize the state contracts out an awful lot of work, and it’s mostly in health care, transportation and construction. Those sectors can expect to be immediately impacted. You’re going to see a dramatic impact.”
Proponents of the measures, however, said the council’s analyses of them are overstated and don’t emphasize how gradual they will take effect.
Amendment 61, which would bar any kind of state debt and limit borrowing by local governments, will take up to 40 years to fully implement, the Blue Book says. Proposition 101, which reduces taxes and fees, does so over 15 to 20 years, and Amendment 60, which lowers property taxes, will be fully in effect by 2020.
“Revenue growth to the government, instead of putting the phase-in period at the beginning to show somebody how modest these proposals are, that’s almost in the small print at the very end,” said Natalie Menten, campaign coordinator for Colorado Tax Reforms, the group that put the three measures on the ballot.
“They assume certain things,” Menten added. “For instance, the income tax relief. They assume that is going to take place every year right away. The 0.1 percent income tax relief only comes in if income tax revenue to the government grows more than 6 percent. These are the things that make these proposals very modest. The income tax to me is not even a tax cut. It’s just a slower rate of increase.”
While the Blue Book details the impact of each measure, it also includes an analysis of how all three interact.
Because of existing constitutional provisions that mandate increased spending for K-12 education, which voters approved in 2000, the council concludes the measures together would leave the state with virtually no money to pay for anything else, such as maintaining the state’s roads or keeping open its prisons.
A recent Colorado Department of Transportation report showed that 52 percent of the state’s roads are in poor shape. Based on current transportation funding levels, the report predicted that figure would rise to 78 percent over the next 20 years.
“The state’s transportation budget will decrease by an estimated 28 percent from these fee reductions,” the Blue Book says. “Once fully implemented, the measures are estimated to reduce state taxes and fees by $2.1 billion and increase state spending for K-12 education by $1.6 billion in today’s dollars. This would commit almost all of the state’s general operating budget to paying for the constitutional and statutory requirements of K-12 education, leaving little for other government services.”
The book also says restrictions and prohibitions against borrowing, including the commonly used lease-purchase agreements, would further reduce the amount of money available to pay for other state and local government services.