No doubt, there's bad blood between Republicans and Democrats in Colorado. But many opposing leaders have linked arms to combat what they call potentially devastating ballot measures that will cost the state jobs and eviscerate services.
Advanced by local anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce and his cohorts, Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 have prompted officials to send up flares about how much money governments would lose, and how education, public safety, transportation and capital projects would be gutted.
One estimate, based on research by the nonprofit Bell Policy Center and the nonpartisan Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, sets Amendment 60's impact on El Paso County school districts at more than $150 million in one year alone.
"If all of these measures were fully implemented in FY 2010-11, the state would lose $2.1 billion in revenue and would have to increase K-12 education funding by $1.6 billion," the Colorado Legislative Council staff wrote in a July 8 memo. "The combined impacts mean that K-12 education funding would require about 99 percent of the General Fund budget."
The latest poll numbers suggest all three measures are in trouble. But to nix them, voters will have to follow through and sacrifice short-term gain at a time when many of them could use some extra money. The Legislative Council estimates a homeowner earning $55,000 per year with a $295,000 home would save approximately $1,800 a year in taxes, and proponents say the three measures address head-on government's worst problems: taxing, spending and borrowing.
Bell Policy Center labels the issues as "three deceptive measures that will blow a [$5.5 billion] hole in public services, throw tens of thousands of Coloradans out of work and make it nearly impossible to build roads, schools and other public assets."
A massive coalition of opponents opposes the measures, including both major parties' nominees for state attorney general and treasurer. But gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo likes returning vehicle registration costs to 1919 levels (Proposition 101) and wants to override previously approved Taxpayer's Bill of Rights exemptions (Amendment 60).
Tancredo also is OK with enterprises, such as Colorado Springs Utilities, paying property taxes. Never mind that ratepayers will get stuck with the bill, with money going to other counties.
"If Amendment 60 would pass, first you would have to do a property assessment, and that means looking at properties from here to Leadville, Buena Vista, Teller County," or anywhere Utilities owns property, pump stations, pipes and reservoirs for its transmountain water pipeline, Utilities spokeswoman Patrice Quintero explains.
Utilities estimates taxes would total roughly $441.1 million over a six-year period beginning in 2011, Quintero adds, and that entire tab would be picked up by local customers.
"It would be a pass-through cost," Quintero says. "That's dollars leaving our own community. That's going to be a tremendous burden on our customers." The impact on the typical customer billing could be hundreds of dollars a year.
Dan Maes, Republican candidate for governor, supports Amendment 60. Democratic candidate John Hickenlooper opposes all three.
Closer to home, Colorado Springs City Council voted to oppose the measures, as did the Black Forest Fire/Rescue Protection District.
"If one of these ballot questions passes, the fire department's funding would dramatically suffer," the district says in a press release. "If all three pass, it could cripple fire department operations."
Here's how it describes Amendment 61: "Imagine finally paying off your home mortgage, only to find that your take-home pay had just been cut by the same amount as your house payments."
Ten committees are registered to fight 60, 61 and 101, led by Coloradans for Responsible Reform. It's collected nearly $6 million so far, including $600,000 from the Colorado Education Association (opponents say 8,000 teachers would be laid off if the measures pass) and $25,000 from GE Johnson Construction of Colorado Springs.
GE Johnson owner Jim Johnson says Amendment 61 "really handicaps Colorado from reinvesting in itself." His company has built many government projects funded with certificates of participation, a financing tool banned by 61.
Proponents have one committee, CoTax Reforms of Lakewood, which has raised $14,313. It's getting its message out via websites and position papers." The "yes" group's spokeswoman couldn't be reached. Its website is cotaxreforms.com.
A Denver Post/9News poll this week shows "yes" votes for all three at somewhere between 10 and 12 percent — even lower than earlier numbers that had left pollster Floyd Ciruli "a little surprised" at the lack of support. But still, at least 40 percent of respondents to each question considered themselves undecided. And Chip Taylor, executive director of Colorado Counties, Inc., said in September that with proponents promising cash-strapped voters tax relief, and calling opposing arguments "shameful accounting tricks" and a "huge con job," the measures will remain threatening.
"There's an awful lot of people," he says, "[for whom] delving into that detail isn't a priority."
'The evil three'
• Amendment 60: Aims to lower property taxes. School districts would phase out half their 2011 tax rates by 2020, and government enterprises, like Colorado Springs Utilities, would be required to pay taxes, resulting in increased rates.
• Amendment 61: Limits state-local government debt. Requires voter approval for all debt, including leases. Major state projects needing multi-year funding, including critical safety projects, couldn't be done unless paid for in cash.
• Proposition 101: Cuts vehicle taxes and registration fees, state income tax and other fees, costing state and local government billions in revenue, and hampering state and local road projects.
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