State voters to speak out on controversial issues | AspenTimes.com
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State voters to speak out on controversial issues

Roaring Fork Valley voters will help decide the fate of three controversial statewide issues and one not-so-controversial regional issue in November.

The state ballot features a question on funding water diversion projects; a gaming proposal touted as a way to boost tourism marketing; and an adjustment to property taxes on residential property.

The water measure, known as Referendum A, seeks approval to issue up to $2 billion in bonds for water projects. If the bonding ability is approved, the Colorado Water Conservation Board must propose at least two water projects in different basins of the state starting in 2005, and forward them to the governor. The governor would be required to approve at least one annually with a cost of at least $5 million.

The proposal was placed, or “referred,” to the ballot by the Colorado Legislature in response to the drought of 2002. However, it is pitting rural interests against urban interests and West Slope versus Front Range.

Nearly every legislator and most county commissioners in western Colorado oppose the proposal because there are no guarantees that the project wouldn’t end up diverting the water east with no compensation for the west. Western Slope officials and environmentalists fear the proposal is just a water-grab to fuel more Front Range development.

Critics also say the proposal is flawed because it doesn’t identify projects before approving the funding mechanism, and that it doesn’t create enough legislative oversight and places too much authority in the hands of the governor.

Proponents counter that Referendum A is a worthwhile tool to ensure future droughts aren’t as severe as in 2002.

Gaming proposal

While the controversy over Referendum A started early in the campaign, the fight over Amendment 33 has just cranked up. Proponents of the measure contend it is a great way to raise funds for tourism promotion, public schools, and parks and open-space programs without raising taxes.

The proposal would allow five dog and horse racetracks in the Front Range to install video lottery terminals. A specific formula is in place for how the funds would be split between public interest uses and the track owners. In its first full year of operation, the video terminals would raise an estimated $25 million for state tourism promotion, $31.3 million for local parks, $7.8 million for state parks, $6.1 million for Great Outdoors Colorado and $8 million for schools. The racetrack owners would pocket nearly $59 million.

The measure would expire in 2019 and would require renewal by voters.

While the public benefits sound good, critics contend it shouldn’t come at the cost of increased gambling. They say it is just an effort to convert the racetracks into casinos.

Several local governments where the racetracks are located contend it will create an extra burden for them with increased activity and increased crime.

Tweaking the tax formula

While Amendment 33 is now getting loads of attention, Amendment 32 remains much more obscure, and for good reason – it’s so complicated only a government junkie could love it.

The amendment would set a fixed tax rate of 8 percent of actual value on residential property. Currently, the annual rate fluctuates to keep residential property tax revenues the same each year.

As Colorado residents benefit from an increase in their property values, they would also pay higher taxes. The result is the state government’s fiscal crisis would be eased.

In a regional ballot issue, question 4A, the Colorado River Water Conservation District is seeking a so-called de-Brucing. That would allow the district to keep annual revenue increases created by rising property values. Currently, due to the Bruce Amendment to the Colorado Constitution, there are limits to revenue increases.

The conservation district’s proposal avoids an increase in the property tax mill levy.

A bipartisan analysis of the state ballot issues can be found at http://www.state.co.us/gov_dir/leg_dir/lcsstaff/balpage.htm.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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