Our View: Vote ‘no’ on Amendments 60 and 61, Proposition 101
August 25, 2010
Steamboat Springs — Some 3,000 local children will start school this week or next in Routt County. The enthusiasm of the returning students might mask the mounting fiscal crisis for our public schools, but it shouldn't.
No school or school district in Routt County is immune to the economic recession, and our public schools have been — and will continue to be — seriously affected by statewide K-12 funding cuts.
Everyone is re-examining their spending. The South Routt and Hayden districts will ask voters for mill levy overrides in the fall to make up hundreds of thousands in lost revenue. Both districts and Steamboat Springs have made cuts, and all three expect to have to make more cuts in coming years.
It's in this climate that Colorado voters will consider proposed Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101. These proposals, citizen-led initiatives aimed at reducing government spending and reducing taxes, are masquerading as measures that will benefit taxpayers.
The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association took the unusual step this summer of releasing a statement of position about the three proposals. We applaud that step and applaud local school districts and municipalities that have been raising awareness and providing education about the proposals for months.
The Routt County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution opposing the measures this week, and we're glad they did so. It's impossible to overestimate the negative impact these measures would have on our quality of life as Coloradans.
According to the Chamber's statement, Proposition 101 will reduce the state income tax rate and eliminate much of the funding for transportation by drastically cutting vehicle ownership fees and taxes, among other impacts.
That sounds great to taxpayers, until you consider that it would cut Routt County's annual revenues by about $5.7 million and city of Steamboat revenues by $954,000, according to the Chamber's statement.
As residents, we expect our community to provide needed services and maintain roads. Proposition 101 would severely limit local municipalities' abilities to do that.
Amendment 60 would shatter local school funding.
It would impose stricter limits on property taxes, 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. That would undo voter-approved tax contributions to programs such as Horizons and Routt County museums.
Keep in mind that voters already have approved these dedicated taxes.
We think communities should be able to tax themselves for programs they consider important, and this amendment would undo important community funding.
In addition, the Chamber paper notes, it would cost Steamboat schools nearly $1.5 million in mill levy overrides.
Amendment 61 prohibits government — including school districts — from being able to incur debt without voter approval. On top of that, it limits voter-approved borrowing to a 10-year repayment period.
Could you pay back a mortgage in 10 years?
Imagine the city trying to pay off a community center, a police station or any major capital project in a decade.
In April, South Routt Superintendent Scott Mader 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 impacts already are starting to trickle down.
As it awaits the outcome of the Amendment 61 vote, the Colorado State Treasurer's Office has suspended the interest-free loan program, which allows the South Routt and Hayden districts to pay the bills until property taxes are remitted in spring.
Last week, Mader asked the Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board if it could accelerate its payment of the about $115,000 the board allocated to the school district for the upcoming academic year. Because of the suspension of the interest-free loan program, he said, the South Routt district soon could be facing a "cash-flow issue."
"We'll be short of cash in October," Mader told the board.
If Amendment 61 is approved, the interest-free loan program will be dead, and local districts will have to scramble to pay the bills.
We cannot allow this to happen.
Ballots for the November election will start arriving in October. In May, this Editorial Board warned voters to beware and scrutinize the measures. Now, we're taking it a step further. The costs of these "anti-tax" measures are astronomical. They would diminish services and likely increase other costs for us, such as utility bills. On top of that, our schools and the quality of our children's education could take a nosedive.
Vote "no" on Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101.