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