Local officials worried over November ballot measures
Ryan Summerlin May 3, 2010
SUMMIT COUNTY – Local officials in schools, fire districts and town governments are worried that three measures on the state ballot this November – if passed – could mean big impacts to the services they provide. Proponents of the measures say they would protect Colorado residents from “abusive” taxes and overspending by irresponsible politicians.
Colorado Proposition 101 and Amendments 60 and 61 would slash taxes and fees and limit governments’ ability to borrow funds. But many local officials say the cuts would go so deep as to cripple their abilities to educate children, maintain roads and provide emergency services.
“It’s too early to know specifically the level of impact our budget would experience,” said Silverthorne’s Ryan Hyland, assistant to the town manager. “We’ve really just begun to assess the effects of the propositions in cooperation with the Colorado Municipal League. However, there would certainly be negative impacts to Silverthorne’s budget were some of these to be implemented.”
Steve Lipsher, spokesman for Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, said his organization “would have to make some significant cuts and radically rethink how we do business here,” should the three measures all receive voter approval this fall.
The measures’ effects to Summit School District would be to reduce revenue or to require voter approval to keep funding levels from dropping, according to assistant superintendent Karen Strakbein.
Colorado Union of Taxpayers, a major proponent of all three measures, did not return calls Monday, but the group’s president, Marty Neilson, told the Denver Post earlier this year, “I know the schools’ mantra: ‘It’s for the children.’ But many of our graduates going on to college have to take remedial classes. These schools need to perform a bit better and do it on the funds they have.”
Proposition 101 would cut vehicle registration fees, over four years, to $2 for new vehicles and $1 for older ones. It would also reduce the state’s income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 4.5 percent by 2011, and then continue annual decreases to a low of 3.5 percent. The measure would eliminate all state taxes and fees on cell phones, telephones, cable and other telecommunications services.
In 2009, Summit County collected $3.56 million in vehicle ownership taxes. Under full implementation of Proposition 101, the county would collect about $40,000. Revenue from license fees would drop from $2.2 million to about $343,000, according to analysis by the Bell Policy Center, a research and advocacy group based in Denver.
According to Strakbein, Proposition 101 would reduce Summit School District’s budget by about $400,000 each year for four years. Furthermore, state revenue would decline by an estimated $1.7 million, which could end up impacting schools as the state tries to cut expenses accordingly.
For this fiscal year, Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue anticipates receiving $275,000 in vehicle ownership taxes. Proposition 101 would reduce that to about $36,000, according to Lipsher.
Local town governments also receive revenues that would be cut by Proposition 101.
Amendment 60 aims to reduce property taxes by setting expirations on certain existing taxes, requiring school districts to reduce local property taxes and “re-Brucing” districts whose voters have freed them from the requirements of TABOR, among other mechanisms.
Summit School District would have to phase out about $10 million in funding – roughly one third of the district’s total budget. The amendment requires the state to backfill that funding to local districts, but it is unclear where such funds would come from, especially if Proposition 101 were also to pass.
Summit School District currently funds kindergarten, transportation and other programs through voter-approved funds that don’t sunset. Amendment 60 would require the district to go back to the voters every four years to continue to receive those funds, which annually generate about $5.7 million.
“Every four years, you have a potential cliff. You would have to make a very, very drastic reduction of 20 percent. It would be very difficult to plan, and it would feel like the schools were always asking for money in all districts in the state,” Strakbein said.
Municipalities would also be impacted.
“The town does receive a portion of motor vehicle fees which are involved in proposition 101,” Silverthorne’s Hyland said. “Much more concerning is the possibility that a TABOR exception extension that was passed by 80 percent of Silverthorne voters in 2009 could possibly be in jeopardy. This item alone would significantly impact the town’s ability to continue to provide the current level of services and programs.”
Amendment 61 would prevent governments from incurring various kinds of debt and require that certain government financing receive voter approval.
The Colorado Union of Taxpayers says on its website the measure would eliminate taxpayers’ responsibility of paying interest on loans the government takes out: “Taxpayers must repay with interest every dollar that politicians squander.”
But Rich Jones of the Bell Policy Center said the measure would hamper governments’ ability to pay for capital investments ranging from snowplows to university buildings to bridges.
“It would be like having to pay cash for your house. You’re going to spend 10 to 15 years saving money while you lose out on the economic benefit of owning your own home,” Rich said.
Strakbein said the ballot language is not sufficiently clear, and as it’s currently written, the school district could have to receive voter approval to lease items like a copy machine.
Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or firstname.lastname@example.org.