Club 20 exec, in Aspen, takes aim at ‘Bad Three’
October 15, 2010
ASPEN – The unintended and, likely, undesirable consequences if any of three statewide ballot initiatives pass in November are too numerable to mention, according to the director of a Western Slope lobbying organization. But, he said, whatever the outcome of the voting, one thing appears certain: Colorado is preparing to change the ease with which its constitution can be amended.
Legislation to do just that was introduced in the last session of the Colorado Legislature and it will be back again in the coming session, predicted Reeves Brown, executive director of Club 20, an organization of business, private and government interests on the Western Slope.
The ballot measures – Amendments 60 and 61, and Proposition 101 – have been touted as a way to put money back in taxpayers’ pockets and rein in government spending. However, they’ve been roundly panned by local and state government, taxing districts and business interests for what opponents say are the initiatives’ onerous impacts – gutting the government’s ability to provide services or even function, and making Colorado an “investment-flight state.”
Both 60 and 61 would amend the Colorado Constitution, instituting new limitations on government borrowing and taxation.
“It’s dangerous to use the citizen initiative process to write fiscal policy into the constitution,” said Brown, appearing Thursday in Aspen to give his presentation on the three initiatives to anyone who cared to listen. The audience included county Commissioner Rachel Richards, the county’s representative on the Club 20 board of directors, two newspaper reporters and commissioner candidate Jack Johnson.
Brown has been traveling the state to present pie charts, graphs and fiscal projections associated with each of the ballot measures. Next week will take him to Grand Junction, Glenwood Springs, Pagosa Springs and Durango, he said.
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Club 20, a nonpartisan and generally conservative voice for the Western Slope, represents a diverse constituency spread over 22 counties, but the 22-member board of directors voted unanimously last spring to oppose 60, 61 and 101, or the “Bad Three” as opponents call the measures.
“When Club 20 speaks and speaks unanimously, that carries some weight,” Brown said.
The potential effects of the measures are complex and difficult to summarize, he said, and a voter who reads only part of the ballot language for the three measures isn’t likely to realize their ramifications.
“Collectively, they will put Colorado in a constitutionally mandated recession,” he said.
Proposition 101, which may have the best chance of passing, according to Brown, will roll back vehicle ownership taxes to virtually nothing ($2 for a new car) and reduce vehicle registration fees to $10 per vehicle.
“Those fees won’t even pay for the cost of processing the paperwork,” he said.
The drop in vehicle registration fees mean the state would see a significant drop in funding for road maintenance, while the ownership taxes help fund K-12 education, among other things. The state, working under another constitutional amendment, must make up the drop in K-12 funding that will result from both 101 and 60, pulling money away from other needs, Brown said.
“Don’t hold your breath waiting for the state to bail out the schools,” he said. “Constitutionally, they’re required to, but you can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip.”
The unintended consequences from fewer dollars for roads, Richards contends, include higher vehicle maintenance costs as the roads deteriorate, insurance rate hikes when the poor shape of the roads contributes to accidents and a loss of federal matching funds for transportation if the state can’t provide its share.
Amendment 60 focuses on property taxes, affecting school funding, Brown said. Among its other impacts: it would also require government operations that are funded by user fees to pay property taxes. That could include everything from municipal golf courses and cemeteries to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Brown said.
In Aspen and Pitkin County, the landfill, airport, city water and electric utilities, and the Wheeler Opera House are among the enterprises funded entirely through fees, Richards said. Higher rates to users will result when the those entities have to pay property taxes, she said.
Amendment 60 would also overturn more than 400 local elections across Colorado in which voters have exempted a taxing district from Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, Brown said. Those votes would have to re-occur, and then take place every four years to continue an exemption, he said.
The measure also allows all owners of real property a vote, whether or not they reside in the taxing district, Brown added. Sorting out the issue of who is qualified to vote will wind up in the courts, he predicted.
Amendment 61 addresses government borrowing.
“Colorado would be the only state in the nation to prohibit borrowing at the state level,” Richards said. “That’s an inherent disadvantage.”
Among 61’s other impacts: taxing districts would be limited to 10-year debts, Brown said, making some infrastructure improvements too expensive to take on, given the burden taxpayers would assume to pay back the debt over such a short time frame.
“There’s a reason we pay off our homes with 30-year mortgages,” he said.
The bond market has yet to figure out how it would respond to the changes inherent in Amendment 61, according to Richards.
“You always hear, ‘Run government like a business,'” she said. “This would take away the very same tools that businesses use.”
The initiatives, Brown reasoned, reflect a disconnect between the government and the governed. Citizens want more accountability, efficiency and transparency when it comes to how government spends their money.
Even if voters reject the ballot measures as overly extreme, government needs to take notice, Brown said.
“If we don’t figure out how to fix the problem, these measures will be back,” he said.