Demystifying the ballot
The local voter's cheat sheet to the 2003 ballot

It’s late October and that can only mean one thing: Once you recover from that Halloween hangover, you have only four days to get your ballot in, two of which fall on the weekend.

But fear not. In our faithful diligence to promote responsible voting, the Durango Telegraph once again is offering an annual crash course in demystifying the ballot. Although it’s an off year and we will be faced with just three statewide initiatives, it doesn’t necessarily mean deciphering them will be any easier (particularly the 200-plus word, run-on sentence that makes up Referendum A).

So before you sharpen up the old trusty No. 2 (or the writing utensil of your choice) and contemplate poking your eyes out rather than spend another second pondering what in the world “eliminating the annual adjustment of the ratio that insures that the percentage of the total statewide assessed value attributable to residential real property” means, read this. We’ve taken the issues, weeded out the extraneous “therewiths” and distilled them into managegable, bite-sized pieces using plain English. We’ve even included popular arguments, pro and con, to facilitate the decision-making process – all in an effort to put the “ball” back into “ballot.”

Amendment 32: Property tax rate

By far the most confusing of the three statewide issues, Amendment 32 at its most basic is a tax increase for homeowners. At its most far-reaching, it is an effort to correct the current fiscal crisis faced by the state of Colorado, which has been blamed on three revenue-reducing measures: the Gallagher Amendment, adopted in 1982; the Tabor Amendment, adopted in 1992; and the education-funding Amendment 23, which was passed in 2000.

Amendment 32 deals with repealing the first of these three: the Gallagher Amendment, which set limits on how much of the state’s property taxes can be collected from residences. Under Gallagher, 55 percent of annual property taxes come from business property, with 45 percent coming from homes, condos and the like. Commercial property is assessed at 29 percent of its value while residential property (using a complex formula we won’t go into here) is assessed at whatever rate is required to make up the remaining 45 percent. When Gallagher first came into being, that rate was 21 percent. However, as residential property values rose (an unforeseen circumstance), that rate dwindled to its current level of 7.96 percent, leading to the argument that Gallagher places an unfair tax burden on commercial property owners. Amendment 32 would lock the rate at 8 percent and do away with the 55-45 split.

In 2003, homeowners and businesses paid about $4.4 billion in property taxes, with a little more than half going to schools and the rest divvied up between counties, cities and special districts. If the amendment passes, it is estimated that taxes on a $250,000 home would increase by $120 over the next five years.

Arguments for:

  • Doing away with Gallagher will free up more money in the state budget for other services. With each decline in the residential assessment rate (which is projected to drop to 7.25 percent by 2008), the state must come up with more money to fund education. Fixing the rate would slow this trend, allowing the state to fund other things.
  • The proposal would free up more money for services rendered by cities, counties and special districts such as fire and library.
  • The proposal would foster a more favorable business climate in Colorado, thus encouraging economic growth and a wider tax base, which would, in turn, reduce taxes.

Arguments against:

  • This is a property tax increase that will make housing even less affordable.
  • Voters in counties, cities and special districts already can vote via local elections to increase taxes to fund services.
  • The Colorado business environment is just fine; the state was recently rated as one of the best states for small business.
  • Eliminating the Gallagher Amendment only addresses one-third of the problem that led to the state’s fiscal woes. Voters should hold out for a more complete package of reforms that tackles Tabor as well as Amendment 23.

Amendment 33: Gambling Terminals

Prior to 1993, a state tax on tourism-related items (lift tickets, car rentals, lodging, restaurants) provided about $13 million a year to promote tourism. However, it was repealed and for several years, there was no state money to promote Colorado. And although the state legislature slowly built that budget back up to its current status of $12 million, Amendment 23 would generate up to $25 million annually for promotion using proceeds from a state-supervised video lottery program.

The proposal calls for the placement of 2,500 “video lottery terminals,” or VLTs (basically video slots, poker, blackjack and bingo machines with a fancy name) at five greyhound racetracks along the Front Range (Aurora, Loveland, Commerce City, Colorado Springs and Pueblo). It also would allow for VLTs at casinos in Blackhawk, Cripple Creek and Central City.

The program would be overseen by the Colorado Lottery Commission with a projected run date of Nov. 1, 2004, through July 1, 2019. The revenue from the machines will be distributed similar to other lottery programs, with a majority going to Great Outdoors Colo-rado (GOCO), which funds open space, recreation, parks, and wildlife and environmental protection projects. However, there is a cap placed on the amount of money GOCO can receive each year, and once this cap is reached, the remainder of the revenue from the VLTs would go to tourism promotion. Under the proposal, tourism will be further funded by a one-time “license fee” of $500 per machine. In exchange for offering the VLTs, owners of gambling venues will be given a commission of the total amount of money that goes through the machines (as much as 6 percent).

The Colorado Tourism Office, made up of governor appointees, will be responsible for the tourism money.

Arguments for:

  • Marketing will help position Colorado in an increasingly competitive tourist market. A well-funded campaign can market the entire state, including historical and cultural attractions.
  • With a revenue for tourism marketing, the state will no longer have to fund it, thus freeing up the money for other things.
  • Marketing the state will boost tourism and thus the state’s economy
  • Proceeds from VLTs will go to maintain trails, protect wildlife and obtain open space and possibly to public schools.

Arguments against:

  • Terming these machines “video lottery terminals” rather than slot machines bypasses laws that require voter approval of limited gaming.
  • Venue owners will receive more than twice the amount of money through commissions (about $60 million per year) than will be set aside for tourism ($25 million).
  • Increasing the accessibility of gambling may increase compulsive gambling, which can be costly to families and society. Compulsive gambling can lead to divorce, domestic violence, bankruptcy and crime.
  • Front Range VLTs will compete directly with mountain casinos, forcing them out of business.

Referendum A: Water Bonds

In light of Colorado’s longstanding drought, Gov. Bill Owens has come up with Referendum A, which would fund hundreds of yet-to-be determined water projects. According to Owens, the state only has capacity to store two-thirds of its annual allotment of 9 million acre-feet of water. The proposal would help the state keep its total allotment by allowing the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s primary water policy and planning agency, to issue $2 billion in bonds to fund public or private water projects. Projects would require approval of governor as well as the water board, which is appointed by the governor.

In theory, the bonds would be repaid from the sale of water once the projects are built. The total repayment on the bonds, including interest, is limited to $4 billion.

Arguments for:

  • If we don’t use it, we’ll lose it. By not storing all the water Colorado is entitled to, it is lost to downstream users.
  • In the event of a severe drought, additional water storage would lessen hardships such as lawn-watering restrictions, water fee increases and loss of crops.
  • Having a single entity (the Colorado Water Conservation Board) oversee water projects will streamline the process, getting projects completed in a more timely fashion
  • Strength in numbers: The proposal would allow for the construction of costly projects that will benefit a number of users who otherwise could not afford to build such things.

Arguments against:

  • Could be the largest debt in state history, and with no time limit set on repayment, it could be carried by our grandchildren’s grandchildren.
  • The proposal does not specify projects or require public comment.
  • $2 billion in bonds is simply not needed to fund water projects. Local municipalities already can borrow money for water projects via other avenues.
  • Program will not change environmental permitting process or legal requirements, which historically are the biggest obstacles to water projects.
  • Water projects can negatively impact the environment.
  • Water users can mitigate water shortages and extend existing supplies through conservation measures and increased water rates.

Question 5A: Animas Mosquito Control District

City and select county residents will be asked to increase taxes to fund the Animas Mosquito Control District, which covers the 100 square miles that basically encompasses the greater Durango area. The increase (about $7 per year on a $200,000 home) will be used to cover operating costs associated with covering more homes and mitigating the threat of West Nile Virus.





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