Ballot issues include school funds, lodging tax
In addition to the high-profile items on the Nov. 4 ballot, such as the Colorado gubernatorial, U.S. Senate and Congressional races, state Senate and House contests and an election for a Pitkin County commissioner’s seat, local voters will face a host of other decisions.
We’ve examined a few of the questions voters are being asked on the ballot. Today’s recommendations involve the statewide and town of Basalt voters; Tuesday’s endorsements will look at the city of Aspen and Pitkin County questions.
STATE OF COLORADO
• YES on Amendment 68: This statewide referendum asks whether gambling should be expanded by permitting casino games at horse racetracks in Arapahoe, Mesa and Pueblo counties. Only Arapahoe County currently has a racetrack. A special tax on the casino-racetracks would generate money for local school systems. If the measure passes, the games could be introduced to Arapahoe Park next year, meaning Denver-area gamblers would have a closer gaming destination than the existing casinos in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek. It is estimated that gaming proceeds from Arapahoe Park casino operations would generate $114.5 million in budget year 2016-17, which translates to about $132 per K-12 student annually. However, because of the extra competition for gambling dollars, the state would see an estimated $29.5 million decrease in tax proceeds generated by existing casino destinations, which provides revenue for a fund that assists community colleges. While we don’t think the state should use revenue from sin taxes to finance education, the reality is that voters have routinely rejected previous attempts to bring more stability to local school-district funding. Any money for students is helpful, and existing casinos across the state ought to be able to handle a limited amount of increased competition. We also take issue with the attack ads against the amendment, which continually repeat that an “out-of-state company” that owns the racetrack stands to benefit. Who cares? Out-of-state companies generate in-state jobs.
• YES on Proposition 105: This ballot question seeks to require labels on some foods that have been genetically modified. Colorado is a battleground state in a national war over genetically modified organisms or organisms that have been altered at the molecular or cellular level. GMOs currently make up almost the entirety of many staple crops, such as corn and soybeans, which are used in many common grocery store items. In the ads arguing against Proposition 105, farmers are telling voters the labels will damage their businesses. But farmers and agriculture groups are said to be small players in the multimillion-dollar campaign opposing this question. Big money is reportedly coming from companies such as biotechnology giant Monsanto Co. and food-and-drink behemoths like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola. Frankly, we don’t see the harm in this proposal, which seeks to give consumers the right to know that certain goods contain GMOs. Most people aren’t going to stop buying their favorite soft drinks or food products because of a small warning label.
TOWN OF BASALT
• YES on Issue 2C: This question seeks approval to raise an existing lodging tax by 2 percent. The existing tax also is 2 percent. The additional revenues from the new tax could be used by lodging properties that build new hotels or upgrade their properties. It’s a lodging tax, so it is paid by visitors rather than residents. A 4 percent total lodging tax won’t make Basalt out-of-line with other towns in the valley. But the way the question came about remains screwy. The Town Council struck a deal with the owner of Willits Town Center that says if voters don’t approve the lodging tax increase, $500,000 will come out of the town’s general fund to help finance construction of an Elements by Westin hotel at Willits. It seems unlikely that any Basalt voter, regardless of principles, will say, “Don’t tax the tourists. Tax me.” We understand that sentiment, though we think the council put voters in a no-win situation. Hold your nose while voting for this one.
• NO on Issue 2D: Should the town impose an additional 5 percent sales tax on retail marijuana sales? The revenues would be used to offset expenses of licensing and regulating retail marijuana sales, enforcement of marijuana laws and for education and public health programs. The question sounds benign enough. Many jurisdictions in Colorado have adopted additional sales taxes on pot sales. But something about this seems unfair. The wording says the education will be used to mitigate any “negative consequences associated with the consumption of marijuana.” Why a sin tax on pot only? Why not a tax on burgers from a fast-food place to educate customers about the consequences of an unhealthy diet? In addition, the revenue won’t be much, since there is only one pot shop in Basalt and only two available licenses. We can’t recommend a burden on a single store that has yet to open.
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