Our View: A close look at ‘anti-tax’ measures
May 23, 2010
The November election is almost six months away, but that hasn't stopped local government officials from sparking discussions about three citizen-led ballot initiatives that we think would have a devastating effect on the ability of state and local government to provide core services for residents.
We applaud the Steamboat Springs School District, Routt County Board of Commissioners and city of Steamboat Springs for broaching the subject in May. Although the Fair Campaign Practices Act prevents public dollars and resources from being used to influence voters on ballot issues, it's perfectly appropriate for our local officials to provide factual summaries and analyses of the ballot measures and their potential effect on Northwest Colorado.
At issue are proposed state constitutional Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, each aimed at decreasing taxes and reducing government spending. For a lot of folks fed up with the federal government, our nation's mounting debt and a crippling recession, paying less in taxes and limiting the size of government sounds too good to be true.
Proposition 101 would, throughout a period of several years, reduce the state's income tax from 4.63 percent to 3.5 percent, slash vehicle registration fees to $2 for new vehicles and $1 for older vehicles, and eliminate other taxes and fees such as those on telecommunications accounts.
Amendment 60 would, among other things, restore the tax limits imposed by the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, cut school district mill levy rates in half and force the state to provide the backfill, and Amendment 61 would significantly limit government's ability to borrow, including preventing governments from using certificates of participation as a funding mechanism for capital projects.
Collectively, the trio of measures would have a profound impact on quality of life and basic, core government services at the state and local levels. Early estimates indicate the measures would cost Colorado a minimum of $1 billion a year in tax revenues.
Locally, Steamboat school officials estimate Proposition 101 would cost the district $1.23 million in revenues in a four-year period, and Amendment 60 would result in the loss next year of $1.5 million.
Routt County's finance director told commissioners the full implementation of Proposition 101 would cost the county $2 million a year, and Amendment 60 could result in between $1.7 million and $3.9 million in lost revenue from voter-approved mill levy overrides. The county manager also said Amendment 61 would prohibit the county from being able to repair Routt County Road 14 because of a provision that governments must repay all debt within 10 years.
It should come as no surprise that anti-tax advocate Douglas Bruce, the controversial Colorado Springs resident, is at the heart of the ballot measures. It was Bruce who led efforts in the early 1990s to pass the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, which limits government's ability to grow and requires all increases be put to a public vote. Many say TABOR and its ramifications partly are responsible for the devastating fiscal situation in which the state finds itself.
Opponents want to know what role Bruce played in supporting Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, for which a group of professional and amateur petition circulators collected the requisite number of signatures last year to get the measures on the 2010 ballot. According to the Secretary of State's Office, eight of the professional petition circulators lived in an apartment building owned by Bruce, who has refused to respond to a court order compelling him to testify in a deposition related to three campaign finance complaints tied to the November ballot initiatives.
Regardless of how the initiatives came to be, what's important is that voters understand the consequences — intended and unintended. It will be tempting come fall — particularly in the midst of a recession — to fall victim to campaign spots that promise reduced income taxes and vehicle registration fees. We think voters are smarter than that and will see the crippling effect Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 would have on state and local governments, which will be manifested in the diminishment, and in some cases abolishment, of services.
It's never too early to get informed. For that reason, we're pleased to see local officials taking a proactive approach to shining a spotlight on these ballot measures. It's hard to imagine that, armed with the facts, voters could support such ill-conceived initiatives come November.