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County mulls amendment stance

Allyn Harvey

The Pitkin County Commissioners may join several other worried local governments today when they consider a resolution expressing opposition to the latest tax initiative by Doug Bruce.

The resolution as currently drafted points out that the initiative, which will appear on ballots in November’s general election as Amendment 21, expresses “strong opposition” based on its likely effect on every level of local government.

“If Amendment 21 is approved by Colorado voters, Pitkin County will lose the following revenues from property tax and sales tax from food – $775,000 in 2001, $1.1 million in 2002, $1.4 million in 2003, $2 million in 2005 – and will likely be forced to curtail, reduce and potentially eliminate services that protect the public health and safety and ensure our quality of life,” the resolution says.

Billed as Tax Cut 2000, the amendment calls for each and every taxing district, from fire districts to city government to the state of Colorado, to make annual, across-the-board tax cuts of $25.

People living in the Aspen Hospital District, for instance, would see the portion of their property taxes dedicated to the hospital cut by $25 in 2001. In 2002, they would pay $50 less than they did this year; in 2003, the cut would amount to $75. The amendment calls for the cuts to continue indefinitely. The same thing would occur with taxes paid to the local fire protection district, the library district, the ambulance district and so forth.

“Amendment 21 would be the first time in state history we would get to vote for a tax cut,” initiative author Douglas Bruce writes in an introductory letter to the amendment’s official Web site, http://www.taxcut2000.com.

Bruce, who built his reputation as a tax cutter with the 1992 Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment to the state Constitution limiting government’s ability to increase taxes, says his latest proposal is the most egalitarian way to cut taxes and a way to force local governments to pause before they offer tax breaks for business development.

“Grandmas and giant corporations both benefit $25 on each line of each property tax bill. Doesn’t it make more sense to leave more money with working families, not blow it on wasteful welfare programs with obscene overhead and rotten results?” the letter says.

The plan has generated opposition at every level of government in Colorado. Locally, the Aspen Valley Hospital District and the city of Aspen have both passed resolutions opposing Amendment 21, while at the state level, Colorado Department of Transportation director Tom Norton, an appointee of Gov. Bill Owens, has warned that transportation projects around the state will be delayed if it passes.

In the Aug. 28 edition of “The Denver Business Journal,” Norton explains that major projects like the widening of the southeast corridor of Interstate 25 and expansion of light rail in Denver and the Snowmass Canyon segment of Highway 82 would be delayed indefinitely by Amendment 21. He said the money voters authorized last fall for transportation projects won’t be available, because instead of borrowing all $1.7 billion at once, CDOT would be required to pay for those and other projects out of its annual budget.

The resolution under consideration in Pitkin County predicts that the amendment’s passage would mean that, by 2005, revenues collected by the Aspen Ambulance District would decline by 83 percent, the Basalt Water District would lose 93 percent of its local funding, and the Pitkin County Library District would see a decrease of 46 percent.

But Bruce says the gloom and doom predicted with Amendment 21 sounds an awful lot like the gloom and doom predicted in 1992 before the TABOR amendment was approved.

The scare tactics about “no police, no schools, no roads that we heard with 1992’s tax limits [which cut nothing] will be repeated,” Bruce writes. “But since the state, with its billions, is required to replace local tax relief [as it must today with school property tax revenue], the only effect on local districts will be a gradual, tiny shift towards broad-based state aid, not obsolete and unfair revenue sources like sales and property taxes, which are high, regressive [hurting the least affluent the most], inefficient and arbitrary.”


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