Guest commentary: Post-election reflections — David vs. Gallagher
Just over 50 years ago, by a margin of 2-1, the citizens of our mountain communities voted to create Colorado Mountain College. That vote established a new tax district in five counties (now six) and a board of trustees to oversee the college’s fiscal health and provision of services.
This month local citizens again cast votes on the future of CMC. Although measure 4B did not enjoy the same level of support as in 1965, the results provided feedback on a difficult matter that affects all of Colorado’s rural communities.
Regardless of how you voted on 4B, I hope we all agree our communities are special places that deserve to be maintained for future generations. We might debate the advantages or disadvantages of various approaches, but none can argue that the quality of life in our communities is worth safeguarding.
Measure 4B was designed to stop further erosion of CMC’s operating budget due to the current housing boom on the Front Range. This growth in other communities is causing a cumulative and permanent cut to property tax revenue in rural parts of our state, a presumably unintended consequence of the Gallagher Amendment, a unique provision in the Colorado constitution that periodically and uniformly resets local revenue based on statewide economic trends, which are often anything but uniform.
Colorado Mountain College may have been the largest tax district to challenge the Gallagher Amendment directly, but the college is not alone in its struggle to find a sustainable future in light of historic population growth elsewhere. Nearly all local tax districts are similarly affected. During the past year, we heard from numerous fire, recreation, water and sanitation districts. All were watching measure 4B closely, as they hoped it would provide guidance to rural communities across the Western Slope.
I commend the CMC Board of Trustees for its leadership and courage to shape and test a question that rural districts might use to protect their services from financial deterioration. It is too soon to tell whether the trustees will run a similar measure again in the future. Meanwhile, community leaders are seeking to better understand how to control their own economic sustainability and preserve local services.
For homeowners, 4B would not have resulted in an increase in property taxes compared with 2016, other than those caused by actual increases in home value. Under 4B, for every $100,000 in assessed value, property taxes to CMC would have been $31, which is $1 less than the same households paid in 2016. Measure 4B was a complex response to an even-more-complex provision in our constitution. However, it would have provided a legal shield against future reductions in revenue caused by a constitutional formula adopted in 1983, when Colorado had half the population it does today.
Measure 4B fell short of majority support in Garfield, Lake and Eagle counties. It passed in Pitkin and Routt counties and was within 35 votes in Summit County. Thanks to the work of the Glenwood Springs Chamber and Resort Association, and numerous others, the measure received combined support from 47 percent of the region’s electorate, a rate many thought was impossible with such limited time and resources. Along with the CMC Board of Trustees, we are grateful to so many individuals and organizations that advocated on behalf of CMC.
This bipartisan support came from Russ George, Rifle native and former speaker of the House of Representatives; members of the Colorado Joint Budget Committee, Reps. Millie Hamner and Bob Rankin; and Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush from Steamboat Springs. The measure also received support from Grand Junction Rep. Dan Thurlow. While CMC is not in his district, and he has been a consistent advocate of limited government, he fully understands that the Gallagher Amendment threatens local services in rural parts of Colorado.
On reflection, the final result on this first attempt was encouraging. We learned that CMC is held in high esteem for the role it plays in our local economies to train first responders, teachers, nurses, hospitality workers and others. For this, the college is truly grateful.
We also heard widespread concern that uneven financial growth in the state is chipping away at critical local services.
Whether you were for or against measure 4B, thank you for participating in the election. Your turnout and engagement is yet another reason why we need to roll up our collective sleeves to find ways to protect the amenities that make our communities the envy of Colorado.
I look forward to opportunities to share information on the long-term impact of the Gallagher Amendment and invite your feedback and ideas on potential solutions. In the meantime, thank you for your enduring support of Colorado Mountain College. It is because of you that CMC is able to fulfill its mission to educate and support the communities and economies of western Colorado.
Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser is president and CEO of Colorado Mountain College. She can be reached at email@example.com or @CMCPresident.