Election Guide: Taxes, spending at heart of ballot initiatives

November questions also deal with health care, definition of a person

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Election 2010

Visit www.steamboatpilot.com/election20010 for complete coverage of this year's races and issues.

Amendment P (constitutional)

Ballot text: Shall there be an amendment to Section 2 of Article XVIII of the constitution of the state of Colorado, concerning the regulation of games of chance by an authority specified by the general assembly?

What it means: If passed, Amendment P would transfer control of games of chance such as bingo and raffles from the Department of State to the Department of Revenue. The Department of Rev­enue already oversees the Colorado Lottery, casinos, horse racing and dog racing. Amendment P also would allow the Legislature to change the requirement that an organization exist for five years with a dues-paying membership to qualify for a games of chance license. Licensed games of chance are permitted under state law as fundraisers for nonprofit organizations.

Fiscal impact: A one-time cost of $116,000 primarily for computer software

Pros: The Department of Revenue already regulates most gaming in the state. The Departments of Revenue and State have told the Legislature that it would be more practical and efficient for the regulation of games of chance to also fall under the purview of the Department of Revenue.

Cons: The Department of State has adequately monitored games of chance for more than 50 years, and there’s no need to spend $116,000 during an economic downturn to change that.

Amendment Q (constitutional)

Ballot text: Shall there be an amendment to Section 3 of Article VIII of the constitution of the state of Colorado, concerning a process for temporarily moving the seat of government in a disaster emergency that substantially affects the ability of the state government to operate in the city and county of Denver, and, in connection therewith, requiring the general assembly to convene in a temporary meeting location designated by the governor and authorizing the general assembly to determine by law a temporary location for the seat of government of the state?

What it means: Colorado’s constitution prohibits the Legislature from moving the seat of government out of Denver without a voter-approved amendment. Amendment Q establishes a process by which the seat of government could be temporarily relocated in the event of a declared disaster. Amendment Q does not change the process for permanently moving the seat of state government.

Fiscal impact: None.

Pros: It allows government officials to respond to an emergency and continue essential government services without first having to go to a statewide vote of the people.

Cons: Amendment Q may be unnecessary because all branches of state government have the authority to manage their operations and address disaster emergencies.

Amendment R (constitutional)

Ballot text: Shall there be an amendment to Section 3 (1) (b) of Article X of the constitution of the state of Colorado, concerning an exemption from property taxation for a possessory interest in real property if the actual value of the interest is less than or equal to six thousand dollars or such amount adjusted for inflation?

What it means: Amendment R would eliminate taxes for private individuals and businesses that lease government-owned property worth less than $6,000 a year. For example, ranchers who lease government land for cattle grazing would no longer be required to pay taxes on it if the possessory interest is worth less than $6,000 annually. Amendment R would not cut or eliminate taxes for businesses — ski areas, for example — that lease government land with a value far greater than $6,000 a year.

Fiscal impact: Amendment R would reduce property tax revenues for local governments by as much as $160,000 a year beginning in budget year 2012-13. That includes a decrease of about $46,000 in property tax revenues for school districts.

Pros: The amendment reduces an administrative burden that often is more costly than what the tax actually provides in revenue to local governments.

Cons: It provides an unfair tax break to businesses that use government-owned property for private benefit; simple fairness demands that all businesses and individuals pay taxes, no matter how small.

Amendment 60 (constitutional)

Ballot text: Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning government charges on property, and, in connection therewith, allowing petitions in all districts for elections to lower property taxes; specifying requirements for property tax elections; requiring enterprises and authorities to pay property taxes but offsetting the revenues with lower tax rates; prohibiting enterprises and unelected boards from levying fees or taxes on property; setting expiration dates for certain tax rate and revenue increases; requiring school districts to reduce property tax rates and replacing the revenue with state aid; and eliminating property taxes that exceed the dollar amount included in an approved ballot question, that exceed state property tax laws, policies, and limits existing in 1992 that have been violated, changed, or weakened without state voter approval, or that were not approved by voters without certain ballot language?

What it means: The first of the so-called “Big Three,” Amendment 60 would repeal the current voter-approved authority of local governments to keep property taxes above their constitutional limits; establish expiration dates for future voter-approved property tax increases; cut local property tax rates for public school operating expenses in half throughout 10 years and replace that money with state funding; require publicly owned enterprises to pay property taxes and reduce local property tax rates to offset the new revenue; provide new voting rights to certain property owners in Colorado and permit citizens to petition all local governments to reduce property taxes.

Fiscal impact: Amendment 60 phases in the reduction of school district property taxes throughout 10 years. In the first year, school property tax revenues are projected to decrease by $337 million. Individual property taxes would fall by an estimated $87 per average household and $1,181 per average business owner. When fully implemented, local property tax revenues would decrease by $1.5 billion annually. Because the local property taxes would be reduced, the state would be responsible for providing an additional $337 million for public education in the first year and an additional $1.5 billion a year once Amendment 60 is fully implemented. Additionally, local governments whose voters have approved de-Brucing measures allowing them to retain property tax revenue in excess of the constitutional limit would no longer be able to collect that additional revenue.

Pros: Provides property tax relief without reducing K-12 education funding; strengthens citizen control over local government; removes a competitive advantage that publicly owned enterprises have over private businesses because those public enterprises don’t currently have to pay property taxes.

Cons: Overturns nearly two decades of voter-approved tax decisions at the local level; allows statewide voters to intrude on local control; would require the state to cut funding for many important services in order to make up the funding gap for K-12 education brought on by the reduction in local property tax revenues; could leave some citizens worse off financially by unfairly providing tax savings to residents in areas with more publicly owned enterprises that would now have to pay property taxes.

Amendment 61 (constitutional)

Ballot text: Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning limitations on government borrowing, and, in connection therewith, prohibiting future borrowing in any form by state government; requiring voter approval of future borrowing by local governmental entities; limiting the form, term and amount of total borrowing by each local governmental entity; directing all current borrowing to be paid; and reducing tax rates after certain borrowing is fully repaid?

What it means: Amendment 61, the second of the “Big Three,” would prohibit all new state government borrowing after 2010; prohibit new local government borrowing after 2010, unless approved by voters; limit the amount and length of time of local government borrowing — for example, local governments must repay borrowing within 10 years; and require that tax rates be reduced after borrowing is fully repaid, even if the borrowing was repaid from a source other than taxes.

Fiscal impact: Borrowing restrictions will require that state and local governments either raise fees, reduce construction, or reduce programs and services. Because of reduced government spending, Amendment 61 is expected to reduce taxes by about $1.1 billion a year when fully implemented over the next 40 years.

Pros: Restrictions on government borrowing will reduce the amount of money spent on interest payments and fees; Amendment 61 encourages fiscal restraint through a pay-as-you-go approach; requires citizen approval before governments can borrow money; reduces taxes when borrowing is fully repaid.

Cons: Hurts government’s ability to respond to needs of citizens by limiting how money can be borrowed and used to fund essential infrastructure projects; limits the ability of communities to meet the demands of a growing economy; places full burden of paying for long-lasting public improvement projects on today’s taxpayers; some governments will face serious financial disruptions as a result of Amendment 61.

Amendment 62 (constitutional)

Ballot text: Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution applying the term “person,” as used in those provisions of the Colorado constitution relating to inalienable rights, equality of justice, and due process of law, to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being?

What it means: The so-called “personhood” amendment seeks to apply the term “person,” as used in the sections of the Colorado Bill of Rights concerning inalienable rights, equality of justice and due process of law, to every human being from the “beginning of the biological development of that human being.” Colorado’s Bill of Rights does not currently address the application of the term “person.” Amendment 62 seeks to define what a person is, but the measure does not define the phrase “the beginning of biological development.”

Fiscal impact: No immediate impact.

Pros: Ensures that all human life is afforded equal protection, including life before birth; could establish legal foundation to end abortion in Colorado; establishing a definition for the word “person” could ensure that individual rights are applied consistently.

Cons: Could limit the ability of individuals and families to make important health care decisions, including abortions for victims of rape or incest, and even when a woman’s life is in danger; could restrict stem-cell research and access to emergency contraception; allows government intrusion in the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship; may subject doctors and nurses to legal action because the “beginning of biological development” cannot be easily and conclusively pinpointed; the term “beginning of biological development” is not defined within the measure, has no established legal meaning, and is not an accepted medical or scientific term.

Amendment 63 (constitutional)

Ballot text: Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning the right of all persons to health care choice, and, in connection therewith, prohibiting the state independently or at the instance of the United States from adopting or enforcing any statute, regulation, resolution or policy that requires a person to participate in a public or private health insurance or coverage plan or that denies, restricts or penalizes the right or ability of a person to make or receive direct payments for lawful health care services; and exempting from the effects of the amendment emergency medical treatment required to be provided by hospitals, health facilities and health care providers or health benefits provided under workers’ compensation or similar insurance?

What it means: Amendment 63 would add health care choice as a constitutional right; prohibit the state from requiring or enforcing any requirement that a person participate in a public or private health coverage plan; and restrict the state from limiting a person’s ability to make or receive direct payments for lawful health care services. Amendment 63 also prohibits the state from enforcing health care coverage requirements at the direction of the federal government. However, Coloradans still are required to have acceptable coverage under federal law beginning in 2014. It does not impact the federal government’s ability to enforce the coverage requirements created by federal health care laws.

Fiscal impact: None.

Pros: Making a decision about health care is a basic right and is better left to the individual, not government; protects the ability of individuals to determine how to pay for health care services; is a statement in opposition to government-controlled health care.

Cons: Limits the state’s options to improve access to health care coverage, which could increase costs for everyone else; could complicate the delivery of health care services; misleads voters into thinking they can opt out of federal health care coverage requirements, when in actuality they cannot.

Proposition 101 (statutory)

Ballot text: Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning limits on government charges, and, in connection therewith, reducing vehicle ownership taxes over four years to nominal amounts; ending taxes on vehicle rentals and leases; phasing in over four years a $10,000 vehicle sale price tax exemption; setting total yearly registration, license and title charges at $10 per vehicle; repealing other specific vehicle charges; lowering the state income tax rate to 4.5 percent and phasing in a further reduction in the rate to 3.5 percent; ending state and local taxes and charges, except 911 charges, on telecommunication service customer accounts; and stating that, with certain specified exceptions, any added charges on vehicles and telecommunication service customer accounts shall be tax increases?

What it means: Proposition 101, the last of the “Big Three,” would reduce the state income tax from 4.63 percent to 4.5 percent in 2011, and then gradually to 3.5 percent; reduce or eliminate taxes and fees on vehicle purchases, registrations, leases and rentals throughout the next four years; eliminate all state and local taxes and fees on telecommunications services, except 911 fees; and require voter approval to create or increase fees on vehicles and telecommunications services. If passed, Proposition 101 would reduce taxes and fees by $1.4 billion in the first year. That impact would increase to $2.9 billion annually (in today’s dollars) when fully implemented. Local governments affected by the decreased fees and taxes include school districts, cities, counties and special districts. The decreased revenue also will affect state and transportation budgets.

Fiscal impact: At the state level, Proposition 101 would reduce revenue in the first year by $744 million, including $295 million in vehicle fees that constitutionally are required to be used for transportation-related spending. When fully implemented, Proposition 101 would decrease state revenues by $1.9 billion in today’s dollars. It also would create additional costs of $48 million in the first year and $121 million annually at full implementation in order for the state to replace the loss of vehicle specific ownership taxes for school districts. At the local level, revenue reductions are estimated to be $629 million in the first year and $1 billion a year at full implementation. The impact on taxpayers varies depending on income, number and types of vehicles owned, costs of phone and cable bills, and whether they purchase, rent or lease vehicles in a given year. In the first year, an average household with an annual income of $55,000 would save about $313 in taxes and fees. That would increase to $708 a year at full implementation.

Pros: Allowing individuals and businesses to keep more of their money stimulates the economy and helps struggling lower- and middle-class families; requires state and local governments to eliminate unnecessary spending; gives people a voice in decisions about fees on phones and vehicles.

Cons: Forces cuts to services that citizens rely on for high quality of life such as education and a safe transportation system; additional cuts could further weaken the economy; hurts ability of state and local governments to maintain already inadequate roads and bridges; cuts to government services could create hardships for families who will have to pay for services that governments no longer provide, such as increased college tuition.

Proposition 102 (statutory)

Ballot text: Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado Revised Statutes requiring that only defendants arrested for a first offense, nonviolent misdemeanor may be recommended for release or actually released to a pretrial services program’s supervision in lieu of a cash, property or professional surety bond?

What it means: If passed, Proposi­tion 102 would prohibit the release of a defendant on an unsecured bond to supervision by a pretrial services program unless that defendant is arrested for his or her first offense and it is a nonviolent misdemeanor. An unsecured bond is one in which the defendant is released on his or her promise to appear but is required to pay the bail amount if he or she doesn’t appear in court.

Fiscal impact: It is estimated that Proposition 102 would increase the annual statewide costs for local jails by $2.8 million beginning in budget year 2010-11. The increase in demand for local jails as a result of inmates being in jail longer while waiting to obtain financing for a secured bond could result in a need for building additional jail cells in the future.

Pros: Requiring a secured bond for individuals accused of crimes provides an added incentive for them to appear in court; it’s appropriate for the defendant’s own money to be invested in his or her promise to appear, especially when he or she is charged with a violent or sexual crime.

Cons: Is unnecessary because pretrial services programs have proven to be an effective method of supervising defendants and ensuring they appear for trial; unfairly burdens the poor because it is more likely that poorer defendants will remain jailed while awaiting trial and wealthier defendants will be released, even if they have been charged with the same type of crime; increased cost to taxpayers to keep some defendants jailed instead of released through a pretrial services program.

Ballot initiative information provided by the Legislative Council of the Colorado General Assembly.

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