Steamboat Springs Steamboat residents Neil and Helen Bergman wanted to get information about November ballot measures intended to reduce taxes and government spending.
One of those measures, Proposition 101, would repeal the Funding Advancement for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery legislation. FASTER, which was approved last year, resulted in higher vehicle registration fees to generate revenue that would be used to fix the state’s ailing road and bridges.
The Bergmans’ vehicle registration fees nearly tripled this year to $700 from $250 in 2009.
They attended a forum Wednesday at Rex’s American Grill & Bar with the intention of supporting Proposition 101 and Amendments 60 and 61, but left feeling differently.
“To tell the truth, I kind of wanted to vote yes on these, but I had a feeling they are really going to hurt us,” Neil Bergman said.
About 20 members of the community attended the forum in which Rich Jones, director of policy and research for the Denver-based Bell Policy Center, gave a presentation about the statewide and local impacts of the proposed measures.
Jones said full implementation of measures that would cut vehicle fees and taxes, cut school district property taxes in half by 2020, and prohibit the state from borrowing and limit local governments’ ability to borrow, would reduce the state’s general fund from $7 billion to $4.8 billion, assuming full implementation in 2011 — the measures would take 10 years to take effect.
“The economy is starting to recover, jobs are starting to come back, but it’s still very fragile,” he said. “… We think these proposals threaten economic recovery.”
Jones said the ballot measures were unusual in that many of the groups opposing them never are on the same side of any issue. He pointed to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and the Colorado Conservation Voters as an example.
Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan, Steamboat Springs City Manager Jon Roberts and Steamboat Springs School District Finance Director Dale Mellor also attended to provide more information about how local entities would be affected.
Sullivan said the county’s revenues would be reduced $4.8 million annually with full implementation. He added that the county’s revenues have taken a $4.5 million hit in the past two years because of the economic recession. He said 24 staff positions were cut in that time.
Roberts said because the city isn’t a property taxing district, Steamboat wouldn’t take much of a hit.
He said Proposition 101 would result in an annual loss of $950,000, or 4.4 percent of the general fund. What Roberts said he couldn’t understand was why the measures cut revenue if they were intended to reduce spending.
Mellor told the group that the school district this year trimmed its general fund about $2 million, just less than 10 percent. He said it cut 38 faculty and staff positions.
Mellor said $9.5 million, or about 45 percent, of the district’s general fund would be lost with full implementation of the measures.
He said about $2.4 million would be cut immediately, this year.
“We’d have to look at all programs — art, music, physical education, athletics,” Mellor said. “Are those essentials? I’d hate to answer that question, but those services would be on the chopping block. … If you have to cut 45 percent of the budget, something has to go.”
No supporters of the measures spoke at the forum. Supporters have referred questions to their website, www.cotaxreforms.com.
After the forum, Kevin Kaminski, vice-chairman of the Routt County Republican Party, said the presentations solidified his opinion about the ballot measures.
“What we have here is three initiatives that were meant to do something the public wants: reduce government spending. But they’re written as a net. When you throw a net at something, it catches everything,” he said. “There’s something wrong with each of them. They have the right intention, not the right result. As an individual, I’d have to stand against them. From what I’ve learned, it’s too big a hit.”
The Routt County League of Women Voters, Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, Community Agriculture Alliance, Yampa Valley Medical Center and Northwest Colorado Farmers Union sponsored the forum.
Jo Stanko, of the League of Women Voters, said she and Chamber Executive Vice President Sandy Evans Hall thought it was appropriate to request a presentation from the Bell Policy Center to help educate residents about the ballot measures.
“We want them to research and understand them before they vote,” Stanko said.
Neil Bergman said even though he probably won’t support the measures, he’s still frustrated with government.
“We’ve got to put a clamp on government. It’s spend, spend, spend, buy, buy, buy,” he said. “For a little blue-collar guy, it’s becoming a big problem.”
— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 871-4203 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org