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Thursday December 8th 2022

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That's what she said

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Ignorance is Bruce


Three November state ballot issues—Proposition 101 and Amendments 60 and 61—would collectively cripple state and local governments in Colorado and have so far drawn strong support among the electorate, despite near universal opposition from business and civic groups and both major political parties, according to Abigail Hinga, outreach director for the Bell Policy Center, Rollie Heath, Colorado state senator from the Eighteenth District, and Richard Valenty, a former Colorado Daily reporter and now aide to Senator Heath, at a PLAN-Boulder forum on Friday, the 13th of August.

Proposition 101 (public service cuts) would amend Colorado’s statutes to:

  • Lower the vehicle ownership tax to $2 for new cars and $1 for used cars, end vehicle rental and lease taxes, and limit the yearly registration fee to $10
  • Reduce the state income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 4.5 percent right away, and under certain conditions ultimately cut it to 3.5 percent
  • End state and local telecommunications taxes, although retaining the “911” fee
  • Lower the current limit on state spending under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (“TABOR”) and “ratchet” it down after future recessions

The budget effects of Proposition101 would be to reduce state general fund revenues for schools, higher education, health, human services, corrections and other state functions by nearly 20 percent, reduce funding for roads and bridges by almost 20 percent from current levels, and reduce general revenues to cities and counties throughout the state by more than $600 million a year.

Amendment 60 (local budget constraints) would amend the Colorado Constitution to:

  • Cut local support for public schools in half (more than $1 billion) by 2020 and require the state’s general fund to provide the difference
  • Repeal all past, local “de-brucing “elections (that allowed local governments to retain increases in tax revenues that exceed the limits imposed by TABOR) affecting real property
  • Limit future “de-brucings” to a period of four years and future tax increases to ten years
  • Allow citizens to petition local governments for ballot issues to lower property taxes
  • Impose property taxes on governmental enterprises and authorities and require governments to reduce property tax rates so that net tax revenues are not increased

Amendment 61 (public financing ban) would amend the Colorado Constitution to:

  • Prohibit any debt financing by the state, including certificates of participation often used for roads and buildings
  • Reduce local governmental debt financing limits from three percent of actual value to ten percent of assessed taxable value of real property (a drop of almost 60 percent for Arapahoe County, as an example)
  • Compel local governments to automatically cut tax rates when debts are repaid

Although the originators of the three ballot issues have deliberately (and probably illegally) obscured their identities, they are widely believed to be allies of Douglas Bruce and probably to include Mr. Bruce himself. Heath said that, based on discussions of the Colorado Fiscal Policy Commission in which he participated last summer, he believes that the three issues reflect an extremely limited concept of the role of state and local government.  Under that view, state and local government should only operate the criminal justice system, provide education from first through twelfth grades, and build and maintain roads, streets and bridges.

Hinga asserted that polling has so far shown that voter support for Amendment 61 is the most robust and that all three issues would be on the verge of passing if the election were held now. Valenty predicted that an unusually heavy voter turn-out opposing the three issues will be required in Boulder County in order to defeat them, because they will attract strong support in other parts of the state, such as Colorado Springs, some Denver suburbs, and rural areas. He asserted that in a normal year 65-75 percent of City of Boulder voters and 60-70 percent of all voters in Boulder County would be expected to vote against the issues, but that those percentages needed to be increased by at least five percent in order to beat them.

Valenty commented that the message of the proponents of the issues will be simple and effective: “We are going to cut your taxes.” He related that a coalition of business, civic, environmental, educational, and labor groups in Boulder County, led by the Boulder Chamber of Commerce (and including PLAN-Boulder County), had already formed to lead a campaign against the three issues and that a much larger coalition called Coloradans for Responsible Reform has been created at the state level. Money is being raised and campaign themes and strategies are being devised. Each group belonging to the Boulder County coalition is being asked to educate its members and get them and their friends to the polls in November.

Heath noted that even if the three issues lose, Colorado would still face a major financial crisis. He said that the state’s general fund has shrunk from $8 billion to $6 billion in recent years. $260 million was deducted from the K-12 state education budget this year. Federal stimulus money essentially paid for higher education in Colorado this year, and there will probably be no money in the state budget next year for that purpose. Colorado ranks last in the country for spending on higher education and mental health. Our medical school receives the 73rd lowest funding out of 75 schools. Colorado’s Medicaid funding is at the  lowest level allowed by the Federal Government. Per capita state revenues are the 47th lowest in the nation. $1.1 billion a year is required to maintain the state’s roads and bridges, but only $700 was budgeted for that work this year.

Heath observed he has devoted much of his time in the General Assembly trying to improve the state’s fiscal condition. Last year he attempted to push it to create a constitutional reform commission to address the state’s structural, financial deficiencies. His effort narrowly failed in the House of Representatives.

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