Owens: Rural areas at stake | SteamboatToday.com

Owens: Rural areas at stake

Referendums C and D critical to regions like Hayden, governor says

Tamera Manzanares

Rural Colorado stands to lose the most if referendums C and D fail Tuesday, Gov. Bill Owens said Thursday.

Owens touted the ballot measures, which would temporarily ease spending limits, and accused opponents of laundering money during a stop at The Haven Assisted Living Center in Hayden.

He arrived by plane at Yampa Valley Regional Airport before speaking to the crowd of about 75 seniors and community leaders from Routt and Moffat counties.

Owens emphasized that rural areas such as Hayden receive more state funds per capita than cities. Rural areas also have fewer state legislators to argue against budget cuts should C and D fail, he said.

“Rural Colorado is most at risk because rural Colorado doesn’t have as many people as urban Colorado,” he said.

The referendums are the result of a bipartisan effort among Owens and Democratic leaders to ease the state’s budget woes, which have resulted in more than $1 billion in cuts to transportation, higher education, public health and environment and agriculture budgets since 2001, he said.

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Referendum C would prevent further cuts by temporarily easing state spending limits set by the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, allowing the state to keep revenues that otherwise would be returned to taxpayers for five years.

Owens said he supports TABOR, but not the ratchet effect that prevents the state from returning to prerecession spending levels when revenues rebound.

“We are going to be the only state in the country that has a surplus and a deficit, and that’s silly,” he said.

Owens later noted that other states considering versions of TABOR are adjusting the ratchet effect to allow spending to recover with revenues.

Referendum D would permit the state to use some Referendum C funds to back bonds for road and bridge projects, school infrastructure improvements and police and firefighter pensions.

If C and D don’t pass, the state will have to cut $73 million. Only K-12 education and Medicaid would be protected, Owens said.

Bob Grubbs of Craig said that although he liked that the referendums will benefit higher education, he worried that too much of the money would go toward building and correcting roads in Front Range cities.

“You’ve joined sugar with the poison,” he said.

Owens responded that Referen–dum C has “nothing to do with roads,” and if voters don’t like urban transportation projects, they should vote against Referendum D — though he noted that bonds are an economical way of funding large projects.

He also discussed the opposition campaign’s arguments and funding sources.

“Their side is hiding — they are laundering money, and I say that with a clear understanding of the word,” Owens said, noting that organizations such as the Club for Growth won’t reveal who pays for their ads.

Mike Beasley, executive director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, said the opposition has suggested the state use severance taxes from mining, or Energy and Mineral Impact funds, to fill budget shortfalls.

Energy and Mineral Impact grants are a significant source of state funding for projects in rural areas.

Owens noted that Hayden grants include $300,000 to improve the town’s water treatment plant, $300,000 for school roofing projects and almost $450,000 to replace water mains.

Beasley’s department also awarded the Visiting Nurse Association a $500,000 grant to add a community center to The Haven.

“For a 2,000-person town, Hayden is doing pretty good,” Owens said.

Sue Birch, executive director for the VNA, said that further budget cuts would threaten nursing and other services that help senior citizens live at home, as well as property tax relief for seniors.

Although pro C and D campaigns are optimistic for a victory, it’s going to be a close race, Owens said, noting that supporters are ahead 3 to 6 percentage points based on newspaper and pro-campaign polls.