GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - A provision of Amendment 60, one of a trio of tax-cutting, government debt-limiting initiatives that are on the Colorado ballot this November, would slice school district mill levies in half over the next 10 years.
That alone would result in about $1.5 billion less in property tax revenues for public school districts around the state, according to Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) Executive Director Ken DeLay.
In turn, the amendment's ballot language says the state would backfill funding for local schools. However, it does not identify a state revenue source to do that, he said.
And, seemingly counter to that plan is a provision of the companion Proposition 101 which would drastically cut Colorado's income tax rate, resulting in a estimated $1.2 billion loss in state revenues over that same time period.
"These three ballot questions combined will affect all levels of government, from the state to local special districts, in very profound ways," DeLay said at a Wednesday forum in Glenwood Springs sponsored by CASB, the Colorado Municipal League, Colorado Counties Inc. and the Special District Association of Colorado.
It was one in a series of six forums being held around the state intended to discuss the potential impact of the three November ballot initiatives on state government, school districts, special districts, counties and municipalities.
As the only forum to be held on the Western Slope, the Glenwood confab drew close to 100 attendees, mostly government, schools and special district administrators and elected officials from throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, Garfield County and other Western Slope counties.
"A lot of the discussion has been focused on the state level, so we decided we needed to go out and have this conversation in the communities," DeLay said of the forum, which took place at the Roaring Fork School District Office board room.
Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, if approved by state voters, would implement a number of deep tax cuts, eliminating some taxes altogether, and make it harder for governments to borrow money and go into debt to pay for public services.
Although the actual authors of the initiatives have not come forward, enough signatures were collected to put the questions on the Nov. 2 ballot. A group going by the name Colorado Citizens for Colorado has a website, www.cotaxreform.com, which makes a case for passage of the initiatives.
Unlike a piece of legislation that gets worked through intense committee scrutiny to weed out any conflicting provisions before being voted on by the Legislature, ballot questions lack that scrutiny, DeLay said.
"What's pretty clear is that these initiatives are designed to undo everything the Legislature, courts and voters have done to TABOR over the last couple of decades," he said of the 1992 Taxpayers Bill of Rights put forward by Colorado Springs anti-tax crusader Douglas Bruce, and approved by state voters.
Bruce is also believed to be behind the current set of ballot initiatives.
"That's really what's going on," DeLay said, adding that the initiatives have a "disproportionate effect" on local government in particular, because that's where voters have tended to go along with mill levy overrides, bond issues and "de-Brucing" ballot questions that allowed local governments to keep and spend revenues above TABOR limits.
Amendment 61 may be the most damaging of the three, he said.
"And, it's the one pollsters say has the best chance of passing," DeLay said, "because it taps into the anger about government spending on the federal level."
Amendment 61 would prohibit state debt, and would restrict how local governments can borrow money, requiring voter approval for such things as enterprise borrowing, refinancing for lower interest rates and cash-flow loans.
For state government, it would ban all loans and lease purchase agreements, certificates of purchase, dedicated revenue bonds and other obligations subject to annual appropriations.
"People tend to see the word 'debt' and click on what's going on with the federal debt," DeLay said of possible voter perception about the question. "It's difficult to get people beyond that."
The ballot initiatives are expected to get quite a bit of attention at the state and local level in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 2 election. Several local entities have already taken or are considering taking positions against the initiatives and passing resolutions urging people to vote against them.
More information about the initiatives and their various provisions is available on the websites of the various associations that sponsored Wednesday's forum:
Colorado Association of School Boards (www.casb.org)
Colorado Municipal League (www.cml.org)
Special District Association of Colorado (www.sdaco.org)