County leaders let voters judge tax, debt issues
School boards, city councils and county commissions across Colorado have lined up in the last couple of months against Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, sounding the alarm that the tax-cutting and debt-limiting measures would gut their budgets.
But here on the politically and fiscally conservative Western Slope, a few elected boards have broken from the pack and refused to jump into the fray that pits supporters who say the measures would rein in out-of-control government spending against opponents who insist the measures would devastate the public and private sectors.
A Daily Sentinel review of the 20 most populous counties in the state found that only three county commissions — Delta, Mesa and Montrose — did not formally adopt resolutions opposing the measures and encouraging residents to do the same. All three commissions declined to take a stance, despite the fact all three counties stand to lose millions of dollars in revenue if voters approve any or all of the measures.
Although commissioners in the three counties said they personally are opposed to Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, they cited a number of reasons for not jumping on the bandwagon against them as elected officials. Some said they didn’t see any value in doing so. Others indicated they thought encouraging their constituents to vote a certain way could backfire on them.
“I was never gung-ho about the Board of County Commissioners officially opposing it, simply because I don’t think it helps,” Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland said. “In fact, I almost think it hurts because this election year is really the year of the rebellion. I don’t think hearing elected officials suggest that people vote no on an amendment that would decrease their taxes is going to be very helpful at all.”
Commissioner Craig Meis said he didn’t feel it was appropriate for the board to weigh in because it could appear to be self-serving.
He and Rowland said that although they will vote against Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, they understand why the measures are on the ballot and probably would have voted for all of them if their scope had been limited to repealing the increase in vehicle-registration fees and the mill-levy freeze.
“But unfortunately they went way above and beyond that and are simply just now trying to decimate not only state but local government,” Meis said.
Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said he, too, is opposed to the measures and would have supported the board taking a public stand against them. At the same time, he said, “I’m not sure that it means a great deal that we did not.”
Delta County Commissioner Olen Lund said he didn’t feel it’s the board’s place to instruct county residents.
“We haven’t taken a position on those because our position is the government works for the people and doesn’t tell the people what to do,” he said.
As a private citizen, Lund said, he’ll vote against the measures because he believes it would be difficult to amend them in the future.
“I’m not nearly as concerned about the financial impact of them as I am the fact that it is creating something in the state constitution that (is) really hard to tweak when (it needs) to be tweaked in the future,” he said.
Montrose County spokeswoman Kristin Modrell said all three commissioners there are opposed to the measures. But Commissioner Ron Henderson said the board declined to take a stand because it felt arguments on both sides had been thoroughly explained to the public.
“We felt that because of that vetting it was really not necessary for the county commissioners to get involved,” Henderson said.