Our sexy democracy 

Another election? Didn't we have one, like, last year? Aren't we going to have one, like, next year for president and stuff?

Yes, yes and yes.

Democracy isn't always as sexy as our president's Top Gun aircraft carrier entrance, but that doesn't give voters an excuse for an epidemic of "huh?"

This Nov. 4 is the odd year coordinated election. With the exception of city council races in Fountain and Manitou, and 14 school board elections, the meat and potatoes of the ballot consists of two state amendments, a referendum and a handful of county-related questions.

Taxes anyone?

State Amendment 32 seeks to raise state residential property taxes to 8 percent of assessed value, up from its current 7.96 percent.

To no one's surprise this has drawn the wrath of anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce.

This doesn't surprise County Commissioner Tom Huffman, who noted that Bruce, a landlord who owns multiple properties along the Front Range, personally benefits from Colorado's tax code. The law in this state allows landlords like Bruce to own an unlimited amount of rental property and be taxed at the residential rate of 7.96 percent, as opposed to the commercial rate of 29 percent.

"This is a wonderful state if you're a residential property owner," said Huffman.

In El Paso County, Huffman is butting heads with Bruce over another ballot measure, County Question 1B, which asks voters for permission to retain and spend county revenues received by the state.

Huffman describes the measure as a means to correct a loophole in Colorado's Bruce-authored Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), which counts state money passing through the county as county revenue. Huffman notes that 44 other Colorado counties have "de-Bruced" to various extents.

Slots or not

Arguably the sexiest item on the ballot is Amendment 33, if only because it's the only one with a noticeable media campaign. If approved, Amendment 33 would permit Colorado's five existing racetracks to install video slot gambling machines.

British-owned Wembley is the parent company for four of the five racetracks that stand to profit if the amendment passes. Recently, two Wembley executives, including its CEO, were indicted on bribery charges in Rhode Island, where they run their only other U.S. racetrack.

Despite this setback, as well as the editorial opposition of the state's two largest daily newspapers, proponents of the amendment say the vote will remain competitive.

"This amendment, without raising taxes, improves the environment and creates jobs," said Lynea Hansen, spokesperson for Support Colorado's Economy & Environment. According to the amendment, 61 percent of the video slot machine revenue would go toward parks and open space as well as promoting Colorado tourism, the state's second-largest industry.

Hansen claimed the indictments are unrelated to Wembley's efforts in Colorado.

However, John Dill of Don't Turn Racetracks into Casinos, isn't convinced.

"That's like Enron claiming they don't have anything to do with national issues cause they're in Texas," he said. Dill, along with a multitude of cities, counties and district attorneys who oppose additional gambling in Colorado and say the economies of Cripple Creek, Central City and Black Hawk would be devastated if the amendment passes, is opposing the proposal.

The wet stuff

State Referendum A seeks permission for the state debt to be increased to $2 billion, with a repayment cost of $4 billion, for water infrastructure improvements to mitigate the drought.

It allows people to come together and propose a project to the Water Conservation Board, said Cinamon Watson of Save Colorado's Water.

The debt comes in the form of bonds so, as Watson says, "The state is not on the hook."

However, opponents say the proposal would unfairly benefit the Front Range at the expense of Western Slope and other small agricultural users.

Walking and talking

El Paso County Question 1A asks for an increase in the mill levy on residential property taxes to support The Resource Exchange (TRE), a service provider for the developmentally disabled in El Paso, Park and Teller counties.

According to TRE's Executive Director Stephen Hall, currently 1,100 developmentally disabled people are on the waiting list for programs and services.

TRE is one of 20 state-certified "community centered boards" designated to assist developmentally disabled people through early intervention programs as well as job placement assistance.

"If this [Question 1A] doesn't pass there will be several children who could be able to walk and talk who won't be able to. That's not a threat or a plea to emotions; that's real," said Hall.

1A's mill levy amounts to $9.15 per $100,000 of assessed property value per year. "It's a couple of trips to Starbucks," said TRE's Community Coordinator Zena Hansel.

While 1A enjoys the support of numerous area churches and Republican Party apparatchiks like Bob Gardner and Sarah Jack, El Paso County distinguished itself by featuring the first commissioner to oppose such a ballot measure since the community center boards were established in 1962.

According to Hall, Commissioner Jim Bensberg opposed putting the measure on the ballot because he said he supports senior citizens and would prefer to see funds go to them.

Bensberg did not return the Independent's phone calls or e-mail. In the past, Bensberg has refused other interview requests saying he "has no comment for the Independent."

Something for everybody

Last but not least, County Questions 5A and 5B seek funds for the Pikes Peak Library District, which aims to build six new facilities in Briargate, Powers Corridor, Lake Avenue-Star Ranch, Falcon, Fountain and Calhan.

In addition, the library would renovate or expand all of its 10 existing branches.

"We're proposing something for everybody, said longtime library board member Paul Byer.

The mill levy would assess property owners $1 per $100,000 of assessed property tax value. Thus, the PPLD has crafted the slogan "A Buck for Books."


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