Referendums C and D: Real issues or rhetoric?
October 17, 2005
If Referendum C fails, it could deal a fatal blow to many area programs, leaders of some Roaring Fork Valley nonprofit organizations say. With budget cuts coming from both the local and federal levels, nonprofits say the state could starve them of money if Referendum C fails and the state’s general fund is depleted.They say it’s not a matter of rhetoric or hyperbole, it’s a matter of fact. And, they say, the consequences will be felt immediately. If Referendum C fails, Mountain Valley Developmental Services will “curtail services starting very quickly,” said executive director Bruce Christensen. Mountain Valley, which provides medical assistance and other support for 300 developmentally disabled clients, will have to halve the number of clients it serves. Day services may be cut completely. And Mountain Valley’s adult comprehensive services program, which now serves 75 people with 80 more on the waiting list, could suffer as families on the list may never be able to get help from the program, Christensen said. “How in the world do I say ‘Hang on for another 160 years, and then I might be able to give you some help?'” he said. Mountain Valley receives most of its funding from Medicaid, half of which comes from the state and half from the federal government. The problem is, Christensen said, if the state can’t pony up its half of the funding, the federal money won’t come through at all. Worse, he said, to maintain its current level of service, Mountain Valley is projecting it will have to spend $400,000 more this year than it spent over the last three years to compensate for the money it lost since 2002 because of higher costs of doing business.Colorado West Counseling Services, which provides outpatient mental health services to patients across the Western Slope, is operating on a budget that assumes Referendum C will pass, Chief Operating Officer Joe Breyer said. “If it fails, we’re anticipating across-the-board cuts in every type of program,” including Medicaid for treatment of mental illness, as well as Colorado West’s substance abuse and corrections programs. While many local governments do their share to support Colorado West, Breyer said, “They can’t support us if they have no money.” He called the organization’s situation “dire.”YouthZone, which counsels troubled kids and provides parenting classes and juvenile corrective services, could be forced to release juvenile offenders it houses under Senate Bill 94 if Referendum C fails, Executive Director Deb Wilde said. The Senate Bill 94 program gives juvenile offenders an alternative to prison to prevent overcrowding and places them in community juvenile justice programs. Under the 1991 bill, YouthZone has seven detention beds available, but because of budget cuts, if an eighth juvenile offender comes along, one juvenile has to be released from the program only to fall through a loophole in the judicial system, Wilde said. Because the juvenile has already been adjudicated, he’d either have to go into a home-monitoring program or be released without supervision, no matter how dangerous he is, she said. If Referendum C fails, YouthZone’s detention program could be “critically weakened” or eliminated entirely, Wilde said, adding that many of YouthZone’s other state-funded programs have already been mothballed. To make up for budget cuts, YouthZone has increased its fund raising, but programs that fund raising can’t pay for have been eliminated, Wilde said. “We’ve been stripped of our dollars down to the last piece,” she said, adding that the program has been hit almost as hard by federal budget cuts. Lost in the rhetoricMountain Valley, YouthZone and Colorado West may not be significant enough to be funded by tax dollars in the first place, said Garfield County Libertarian Party chief Barry Maggert, an outspoken opponent of referendums C and D.”They’re the least important thing for the government to fund, and they’re going to get cut,” he said. “Maybe that’s for the best. People shouldn’t have to fund them through tax dollars.”Nonprofit directors have a different take: In the face of all the slashed budgets and the potential stripping of nonprofits’ money, the directors are miffed that many Coloradans can’t see through the rhetoric on both sides of the debate despite the stakes.”Voters aren’t quite sure to really believe what the impacts of C and D are going to be,” said Wilde, who openly supports both referendums. She said the state Legislature has worked hard to protect nonprofits from the impact of state budget constraints, but legislators’ good intentions have kept voters from feeling the true impact of the cuts.She called those who complain about Referendum C taking away a few dollars in TABOR tax refunds “shortsighted.”There are “good people who want great things in the community [and] want good things for their neighbors, but [they] have been confused by all the rhetoric,” she said. That’s what Christensen is angry about. “I find it extremely offensive that these right-wing groups from other states are trying to influence an election that doesn’t affect them, but affects citizens in Colorado,” said Christensen, who also said he has no party affiliation. If voters look at what referendums C and D mean to Colorado and not what they mean to how much of a TABOR refund they get back each year, the state will soon be in much better shape, he said. Maggert, who lives in Carbondale, said such warnings are just self-serving marketing ploys – nothing more than a survival technique. “They’re putting a lot of fear out into society,” he said. Breyer is optimistic despite potential cutbacks. “I’m very hopeful that the people of Colorado will realize the volume of services that are provided and will be lost, and in some cases irrevocably,” he said. “People with mental illness do not go away. … People with substance abuse [problems] do not go away.”In the end, he said, taxpayers will feel the cost of dealing with the ill in emergency rooms and other such places with higher hospital bills. But for Maggert, the bottom line is that “people should pay for what they use. People shouldn’t have to be coerced through tax dollars to pay for things they don’t want to pay for.”But if voters show they want higher costs by voting “no” on Referendum C, Wilde said, “You get what you ask for.”You have to hit rock bottom to truly understand,” she said, adding that when so many services are eliminated, communities end up having to pay more to recover the lost programs than they would if they kept them to begin with. “It’s like when you let a road go to potholes – it’s much more costly when you have to tear the thing up and start over again,” she said.The ballet measuresReferendum C If Referendum C passes, taxpayers won’t receive their annual refund of tax dollars the state doesn’t use as TABOR mandates. The state will spend the money on education, transportation and fire and police pensions. Referendum DIf Referendum D is approved, it will allow the state to borrow more than $2 billion for transportation projects, public school and higher education buildings, and local fire and police pensions. It would take effect only if Referendum C passes.