The measures and impacts on schools
• Proposition 101 would reduce taxes and fees, mostly vehicle fees called “specific ownership taxes” that help fund school districts.
• Amendment 60 would impose stricter limits on property taxes and require school districts to cut their mill levies in half by 2020.
• Amendment 61 would limit local school districts from borrowing money and operating in debt, and the interest-free loan program would end.
City monitoring measures
Steamboat Springs City Manager Jon Roberts said the city is keeping its eye on Proposition 101 and Amendments 60 and 61.
“I haven’t dug into the specifics, but people who are more familiar with it than I am, in that financial realm, have expressed concern,” he said.
Roberts said Steamboat has invited a Denver law firm that advises municipalities on finance issues to give the city, and possibly Routt County, a presentation about the ballot measures and their impacts.
After the city has more information, Roberts said the City Council could take a position on the ballot measures.
A closer look at Proposition 101
The Bell Policy Center has begun to break down how Proposition 101 would affect each county. It has yet to estimate how the measure would affect Routt County but has done so in neighboring Grand County. According to the U.S. Census Bureau 2009 estimate, Routt had 23,469 residents to Grand’s 13,911. And Routt’s three school districts have about 1,000 more students than Grand’s two.
Despite the size difference, the amount of lost revenue for Grand County and its schools after full implementation of Proposition 101 helps illustrate the impact the measure could have.
According to Bell, Grand generated about $1.9 million in 2009 from specific ownership taxes. With full implementation of Proposition 101, those fees would be lowered to a total of $10, and the county’s revenue generated would dwindle to more than $28,000, a 98.5 percent reduction.
Those taxes generated about $494 per pupil last year in the East Grand School District (about 1,400 students compared with Steamboat Springs’ 2,100). With full implementation of Proposition 101, that revenue would fall to only $6.22 per student.
For more from The Bell Policy Center, go to www.thebell.org.
Steamboat Springs The South Routt School District depends on the state’s interest-free loan program.
The program allows South Routt and 24 other Colorado school districts, including Hayden, to pay the bills for most of the school year until their primary revenue source, property taxes, is remitted in April or May.
It could go away.
Colorado voters in November will consider three “anti-tax” ballot measures — Proposition 101 and Amendments 60 and 61.
One of them, Amendment 61, would prohibit the state from taking loans that would allow it to operate in debt. It also would limit the ability of local governments, including school districts, to borrow and incur debt. If approved by voters, the measure will kill the interest-free loan program.
South Routt Superintendent Scott Mader shook his head and sighed Thursday night when he considered what would happen if the district were unable to borrow money.
“It would bring us to our knees,” he said. “We couldn’t operate.”
The three measures, which would affect all levels of government statewide, are making school officials, state education advocacy groups and Colorado lawmakers nervous.
They “will pretty much shut down government in the state of Colorado,” said State Sen. Al White, R-Hayden.
How they work
The three ballot measures are petition-led initiatives aimed at decreasing taxes and government spending.
■ Proposition 101 would reduce taxes and fees, mostly vehicle fees referred to as “specific ownership taxes.” It would: reduce income taxes from 4.5 to 3.5 percent; eliminate fees imposed by FASTER (enacted last year to generate revenue to repair the state’s roads and bridges); reduce registration, license and title fees to $10; exempt $10,000 from vehicle value sales price; eliminate sales taxes on rental and lease vehicles; and eliminate telecommunications fees except funding for 911 services.
■ Amendment 60 would impose stricter limits on property taxes. It would repeal property tax collection limits previously approved by local voters, require that property tax increases expire after 10 years, allow taxpayers to petition for property tax decreases during every election and force school districts to cut their mill levies in half by 2020.
■ Amendment 61 would further restrict borrowing money. It would prohibit the state from taking loans and incurring debt, including general obligation bonds, certificates of participation, revenue bonds or borrowing of any kind. It would require that local governments — including school districts — get voter approval to borrow, limited to 10 years, and force the entity to cut taxes equal to the average annual payment of the loan after it is paid.
What it means
The ballot measures sound good, said Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards. But Urschel wants people to understand that with lower taxes, there will be less revenue, and therefore, fewer services. That includes education.
She said the measures would undercut the revenue base for the state’s school districts and might make it impossible for them to repair or construct buildings, pay teachers or borrow money. Urschel said Amendment 61 would be the end of the state’s interest-free loan program.
“If they’re approved by voters,” she said about the three measures, “they’ll be devastating, not only to local school districts, but all governments, especially the state government.”
The nonprofit Bell Policy Center, which researches issues that affect Colorado residents, has estimated that Proposition 101, when fully implemented, would result in $1.7 billion in lost revenue for the state. And it estimated that local governments would lose $622 million. Those figures are annual.
It hasn’t estimated the loss of property tax revenue that would result from Amendment 60, nor has it figured out how much school districts borrow through the interest-free loan program.
“The impacts of these things are pretty dynamic in and of themselves,” said Frank Waterous, senior policy analyst for Bell. “But the interconnections amongst them are quite dramatic and quite devastating to the things state and local governments try to provide.”
The Bell Policy Center website stated, “We believe Colorado would become the only state in the nation without the authority to issue debt.”
Urschel said the flaw with Amendment 60 is the expectation that the state would backfill what the districts lose when mill levies are cut in half by 2020. The public school finance formula determines the state funding share, or equalization, based on what isn’t generated by local property taxes. Urschel said there’s a problem with that plan.
“The state is bleeding,” she said. “It has no money to backfill.”
The problem for schools
Liane Morrison, executive director of Great Education Colorado, a nonpartisan advocacy group for the state’s schools, said Colorado’s support of its public education is among the lowest in the country. And that doesn’t include the $260 million lawmakers trimmed this year, she said.
Morrison said Colorado spent nearly $1,400 less per K-12 student than the national average in 2007, the most recent figures available. And she said that lack of investment has been going on for 20 years.
Great Education Colorado has formed a coalition called Great Futures Colorado, which consists of more than 20 organizations that are working to get a measure on the ballot that would raise taxes for public education, Morrison said.
She said the measure, dubbed DECIDE (Decide: Education Cuts or Invest in our Democracy and Economy), would give legislators the discretion to increase taxes to fund public school education from preschool to college.
“It would allow Colorado voters to decide what’s of higher value to them: maintaining the strictest revenue limits in the country or investing in statewide education,” Morrison said.
She added, “DECIDE gives the voters the ability to give the legislature a tool other than a hatchet to balance the budget.”
Because it’s a “referred measure,” the Colorado House and Senate would have to approve DECIDE by a two-thirds majority, Morrison said. She said the House Education Committee reviewed the measure last week and the Senate Education Committee will hear it Thursday.
Getting the word out
The nonpartisan Bell Policy Group does advocate and make recommendations about issues, but it hasn’t taken a position on the three ballot measures, Waterous said. He said Bell is giving presentations across the state about their impacts and reaching out to government officials and residents.
The Colorado Association of School Boards is doing the same, Urschel said. She said the group would be working to educate its member school boards until November. Urschel added that the organization also is working to draft a resolution that school boards can consider to oppose the ballot measures.
White also said he would reach out to constituents about the measures during town hall meetings before the election.
During the South Routt School Board meeting Thursday, Mader gave a brief presentation about each ballot measure. He told board members how “devastating” the measures would be for South Routt if voters approved them and said the board would be presented the school board association’s resolution to consider.
“I would hope these things don’t see the light of day,” Mader told the School Board. “I don’t know how we would function or how other government agencies would function.”