The Crestone Eagle, October 2005:

Local support for Referenda C&D voiced
by David Nicholas

Referenda C & D is receiving the big push to succeed at this year’s off-year election. Nearly everybody is endorsing them, from the state Governor down to our local county commissioners and the Moffat Consolidated School Board and members of the Crestone Charter School Governing Council. Led by Governor Bill Owens, along with our State Senator Lewis Entz (R-Hooper), Referenda C & D are high profile issues. For a state whose electors traditionally turn down tax issues, community organizations across the board as well as politicos are all arguing that these Referenda need urgent consideration and approval.

What is unusual is that it is Republicans, who usually oppose tax increases of any kind, are leading the push for Referenda C & D to pass. They claim doom and gloom for highway infrastructure, educational institutions and local social service programs if the referenda fail to pass.

Opponents claim they will cause a tax increase and set the cat among the pigeons after years of controlling government growth, and open the floodgates of government spending without citizen oversight.

At issue is the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), which was passed to prevent state and local government from growing (i.e., raise taxes) without voters’ consent. TABOR allows the state to increase its revenue only by an equal amount to population growth and inflation, as measured by the consumer price index in the Denver-Boulder area. What that means in practice is that the current year’s increase is based upon previous year’s revenue limit or last year’s revenue collections.

TABOR is based on the assumption that government grows annually, but in reality that is not what happened. The recession in Colorado in 2001-02 sharply cut into government revenues caused by the operation of the TABOR process.

Referendum C
Referendum C is asking for a “time-out” for five years, to 2010-11, from the TABOR provisions to restore the state’s revenue increases at the rate they were going before the 2001-02 recession. The recession caused state revenues to drop by 17 percent.

Without the recession the state budget for 2004 would have been $9.6 billion instead of $7.8 billion, which it actually was. Referendum C seeks to bring $2.3 billion back into the revenue pool—that is, it is about one third of the current General Fund budget of $6.7 billion.

If Referendum C fails, then the opposite happens. Budget cuts occur which reduce the General Fund by one third. As two thirds of the state’s general fund is off-limits to cuts, the one third where cuts would occur affects the areas of public safety, such as prisons and the state court system, currently budgeted at $828 million.

Also, other areas to suffer would be higher education, which currently receives about $600 million, along with local social service programs, such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program.

On the local level, if Referenda C & D fail, Saguache will see cuts in local highway funds and social services.

Referendum D
Essentially, Referendum D specifies how the increases would be allocated. If Referendum C is approved by voters, Referendum D will authorize the state to bond up to $2.07 billion. Depending on market conditions with bond proceeds dedicated to: $1.2 billion for repair and replacement of highways and bridges; $147 million for K-12 school construction, repair, and maintenance; $50 million for construction, repair and maintenance of state university, college and community college facilities; $175 million to be credited to fire and police members’ retirement fund to pay off the state’s share of unfounded liabilities.

The Good News
The good news is that it does not cost an extra penny to taxpayers to approve Referenda C & D. They do not change any existing income, sales, or property tax at the state or local levels. By law, there will be no new taxes and no increase in any existing tax rates. In fact, Referendum C provides for a cut in state income taxes after five years. However, if this measure does not pass, fees for government services such as parks and licenses will have to be increased.

On the local level, the Board of education of the Moffat School District urges voters to approve Referenda C & D, having passed a resolution in support at their September Board meeting.

In addition, across the state, conservation groups have endorsed the referenda, including Colorado Action Network, Colorado Conservation Voters, Audubon Colorado and the Sierra Club. Also, Equal Rights Colorado, the gay and lesbian lobbying group, has endorsed the referenda.

Foes of the referenda argue that even a temporary forsaking of TABOR’s provisions would be bad for Colorado even for five years. So the media campaign has been hot and heavy on TV and in newspapers.

History shows that negative political campaigns are more likely to succeed because they tend to preserve the status quo. However, given the caution and the specifics of the referenda, the risk appears minimal that government spending will run amok from a temporary hiatus of TABOR’s provisions. TABOR was not meant to reduce the revenues, but it has happened due to unforeseen circumstances.

Bipartisan support for the Referenda is wide, but, of course, your opinion matters, so make sure you have a say this year. Vote, vote, vote.

Moffat School Board member Marta Shoman contributed to this article.

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