Ballot measures would hogtie government

It’s not for us to decide whether the backers of three ballot measures that aim to eviscerate state and local governments broke the law in circulating petitions for those measures. Colorado Secretary of State Bernie Buescher and his staff are looking into those questions this month, as a result of a complaint filed by a group called Protect Colorado’s Communities, which opposes the ballot measures.

If Buescher’s team determines the proponents of the amendments did violate laws for gathering signatures and reporting donations, we hope they receive the maximum penalty available. Fines of $50 a day for each violation, going back to the day they occurred, would serve notice to these folks and everyone else that they can’t simply ignore state laws because they think their cause is just.

But, even if it is determined no law was broken with these proposals, it’s clear their aim is to hogtie state and local governments — to so limit their finances that it would be difficult for them to function.

For instance, Proposition 101 aims to reverse legislation approved last year that raised vehicle registration fees in Colorado substantially. That’s fair enough. The Daily Sentinel was critical of the fee increase being passed in the midst of a recession. But Prop 101 goes on to cut vehicle registration over several years — eventually to $2 a year for new vehicles and $1 for older ones. That’s far less than Coloradans were paying for vehicle registration before the Legislature increased fees last year, and few people complained about the earlier fees. The measure would remove a great deal of money now going to the state to help maintain its highways.

Additionally, Prop 101 would lower Colorado’s 4.63 percent income tax rate over several years to 3.5 percent, eliminating a quarter of the revenue the state now receives from income tax at a time when the state is already facing its worst budget crunch since the Great Depression.

Amendment 60 would reverse the highly unpopular mill levy freeze on school district mill levies imposed by the Legislature at the behest of Gov. Ritter in 2008. As with the vehicle registration fees, that was a hotly disputed tax and it’s understandable that some people want to see it reversed. But Amendment 60 goes even further, making it impossible for a school district to override the limits of the TABOR Amendment, even if citizens in that district vote to do so. That goes against the clear language of TABOR and democratic tradition.

Amendment 61 would prohibit state and local governments from entering into any sort of debt without voter approval. That includes things like lease-purchase agreements, which have helped School District 51 build or improve schools in recent years at very favorable costs.

The proponents may claim these ballot measures are intended to make state and local governments more fiscally responsible, but they would put such financial handcuffs on the governments that they would be unable to adquately provide many of the services that citizens expect.

Regardless of what happens with the complaint now before the Secretary of State, Colorado voters need to become familiar with these amendments and vote them down if they all appear on the ballot this fall.


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