Miller: What kind of Colorado do we want?
Some years ago, a friend visiting from out of state remarked on how beautiful Colorado was. Sure, there were the mountains and all that, but as an urban guy, he was particularly impressed with the roads, the modern street signals and signs and, especially, the Eisenhower Tunnel.”This is the cleanest, nicest tunnel I’ve ever seen!” my friend exclaimed. In the back seat, a Colorado friend stated simply: “Colorado, man, it’s the Switzerland of America.”Driving along I-70 nowadays and through the tunnel, my old friend would no doubt be disappointed to see how far we’ve fallen in a couple of decades. Not only have a pair of recent recessions taken their toll, but anti-tax initiatives over the years – TABOR, Gallagher and others – have hobbled state and municipal government to the point where Colorado is on its way from the Switzerland of America to, perhaps, the Swaziland. Sure, no one wants to pay more taxes than necessary, nor do we want to see them spent on frivolous things. But as three more tax-killing questions loom for the November ballot, it’s time for Coloradans to ask ourselves if having slightly lower taxes is worth being the leader in a race to the bottom. How much of a home or a tourist destination will Summit County be if the roads continue to deteriorate, the tunnel looks like some kind of hell-hole and our infrastructure – from schools and roads to public buildings and water & sewer – resembles that of a third-world nation? And it’s no exaggeration: If the tax-cut nuts have their way and voters OK Amendment 60 to amend TABOR, second-home owners would be allowed to petition and vote to lower property taxes. How do you think most of those folks feel about supporting schools where they have no kids? The amendment also demands that, by 2020 all school districts will have to reduce their mill-levy revenue by half. Huh? Also, any previously approved increases by voters would expire after 10 years.In Amendment 61, no state entities could take on debt in any form, effectively crippling everything from bond issues for building construction (Summit High School, among others), to the myriad other ways municipalities (like many businesses) responsibly take out and pay back loans as part of normal business. Some say this draconian rule would even disallow leasing of things like vehicles or copy machines.Proposition 101 is another gem, aimed at reducing vehicle registration fees from the sliding scale they’re on now to a flat rate of $1 for older cars and $2 for newer ones. Sounds great until you notice that takes an estimated $1.2 billion chunk out of a state budget already pared to the bone. Summit School District’s numbers whiz Karen Strakbein estimates this lemon of a law would deal a $2 million blow to our schools annually – with $1 million coming right off the top as soon as next January. And if you think our roads and bridges are in poor shape now, just wait to see what they’ll look like if this turkey is approved. We’ll end up spending more on car repairs than we ever saved on registration fees.Voters are usually pretty good at sniffing out stupidity at the polls, and hopefully the message about the damage these three questions would cause our state will get across well enough to stop these in their tracks. Even without such added pain, however, we’re still faced with potential decisions about what kind of state and county we want to live in. It’s likely the school district will ask voters this November to retain some of a previous mill-levy increase to help make up a budget shortfall in 2011-2012 of at least $1.7 million. If trends continue as they are, our school district faces a 25 percent decrease in revenue over the next three years. Sure, some belt-tightening will be implemented, but these are big numbers, and there’s no doubt our children and families will be negatively affected through reduced resources, larger class sizes, shoddier facilities, increased fees and more.But we do have some say in this, starting by voting against Proposition 101 and Amendments 60 and 61 in the fall. We also owe it to our community to learn about cost-cutting measures the school district is weighing and deciding if supporting a mill levy increase is truly warranted. (The anticipated measure, by the way, if approved would actually reduce taxes by $18.37 per $100,000 of assessed value; that’s because it would coincide with the sunsetting of the last mill levy increase voters approved for school district upgrades.) There’s a budget planning meeting open to the public March 30 from 6-8 p.m. at the Summit Middle School. There, you can ask about the cuts, get the facts and make informed decisions.What kind of Colorado do we want? I for one would like to see one where the greater community supports itself by providing adequate funding for roads and other infrastructure, schools and public services, and where we don’t have to puzzle at the polls every year or two over radical measures proposed by fringe groups.Is that too much to ask?Summit Daily editor Alex Miller can be reached at email@example.com or (970) 668-4618.
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