Water, education and transportation all wrapped up into two state ballot questions before voters | PostIndependent.com

Water, education and transportation all wrapped up into two state ballot questions before voters

After facing one of the most loaded Colorado ballots in recent memory last year — when voters were asked to consider 13 statewide ballot questions — voters this fall will decide just two state ballot measures.

But the intent has a familiar ring to it, as funding from at least one of the measures on the Nov. 5 statewide ballot is proposed to be directed toward education and transportation.

Besides a handful of local questions and elections for area school board and Colorado Mountain College trustee seats, two measures were referred by the Colorado Legislature — Propositions CC and DD.

Keep and spend

Prop CC asks whether the state government should be allowed to retain revenue above the spending cap mandated in the state constitution under the so-called Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR) Amendment that was passed in 1992. 

Rather than being refunded to taxpayers, as spelled out under TABOR, the extra money — estimated to be $264.3 million in 2020 — would be used to bolster funding for state transportation projects and both K-12 and higher education.

Supporters, including several education organizations across the state, say Prop CC is a way to provide more funding for K-12 education, including better teacher pay, short of a dedicated new tax. 

Such a tax measure (Amendment 73) failed in the 2018 election. And, the same was true for two ballot measures aimed at transportation (Props 109 and 110), which also were turned down by voters last year. 

Supporters see this year’s Prop CC as a way to keep and spend state tax revenue that’s already collected, without raising taxes. The vast majority of the state’s municipalities, counties and school districts have done this through local “de-Brucing” measures — a reference to TABOR author and anti-tax crusader Douglas Bruce.

“If passed, the money from Prop CC would help attract and retain the best teachers for our K-12 schools … reduce traffic congestion and repair unsafe bridges … and make community colleges more accessible and affordable,” according to the pro-Prop CC campaign website.

According to the campaign, in its first year, Prop CC would direct an estimated $88.1 million to state, county and local transportation projects, $88.1 million to higher education and $88.1 million to public schools for “non-recurring” expenses like buying books or computers, or creating incentives to retain and attract quality teachers.

Under Prop CC, the state’s auditor would be required to publish a yearly financial audit of money kept and spent as a result of Proposition CC, according to the pro-Prop CC campaign. 

However, opponents — including the conservative political action group Colorado Rising Action — say Prop CC is just what supporters say it isn’t — a tax increase.

“The government is asking to keep and spend tax money that would otherwise be returned to Coloradans, making this a tax increase,” according to the “No on CC” website.

“… Without the revenue cap in place, the state government would be able to spend more of the tax dollars it collects in the future. And, even though taxpayers aren’t technically paying the government more than the current rate, Coloradans would be left with less money in their wallets, because they wouldn’t get any of it back the next time the state surpasses the revenue cap.”

Betting for water resources

The other statewide question before voters, Proposition DD, would authorize sports betting in Colorado casino towns and impose a 10% tax on those proceeds.

The funds generated are to be used to fund the implementation of the state’s water plan. A portion would also go to fund expenses related to the administration and regulation of sports betting.

Locally, the Colorado River District Board of Directors has endorsed Prop DD, saying the estimated $10 million to $15 million it could generate annually is a way to at least begin to fund the water demand management program contained in the Colorado Water Plan. 

That plan, approved under Gov. John Hickenlooper, was a multi-year effort bringing together stakeholders from all of the state’s river basins, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and both Western Slope and Front Range water interests to come up with a management plan for the state’s water resources.

The effort was also aimed at avoiding a potential Colorado River Compact call from downstream states.

Noting a funding gap of $100 million per year over 30 years to fund the plan, Prop DD “will only be a start toward fully funding Colorado’s water supply needs …,” according to the River District, which is based in Glenwood Springs but represents 15 western Colorado counties.

“… It is the expectation of this board that the General Assembly will fund the additional needs from the General Fund,” the River District board emphasized in its resolution of support for the measure.

According to the pro-Prop DD campaign group, “Yes on DD,” the proposal is similar to the creation of the Colorado Lottery 30 years ago, proceeds from which have gone to fund numerous outdoor recreation projects across the state through the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) program.

“Colorado’s population is expected to double by 2060 and, at current usage rates, our water supply will not keep up with that growth,” according to the campaign. “With these pressures mounting, it is critical that we conserve and protect our water resources to ensure that there is enough water for everyone.”

Opposing Prop DD, however, are some of the same environmental groups that also have been critical of the Water Plan, saying it opens the door for new dam projects around the state and frees up too much water for oil and gas development.

One such group is Coloradans for Climate Justice, headed by longtime river enthusiast and state water resource activist Gary Wockner.

“It would basically be a slush fund for the legislature to spend on whatever they want to spend on,” Wockner says on the Climate Justice Facebook page. “And it could include … new river-destroying dams and diversions on our state’s already severely depleted rivers.”

Ballots for the Nov. 5 election have been sent by mail to all registered voters in Garfield County and across the state, and should be in hand this week. 

Voters can return ballots to the County Clerk’s Office by mail up until about a week before the election, or in person at one of the many drop-off locations throughout Garfield County until 7 p.m. on Election Day.

More 2019 election information, including a link to Colorado’s “Blue Book” ballot information booklet, at the Garfield County Clerk and Recorder’s Election Central webpage.

Ballot language for state questions

Proposition CC

Without raising taxes and to better fund public schools, higher education, and roads, bridges, and transit, within a balanced budget, may the state keep and spend all the revenue it annually collects after June 30, 2019, but is not currently allowed to keep and spend under Colorado law, with an annual independent audit to show how the retained revenues are spent?

Proposition DD

Shall state taxes be increased by twenty-nine million dollars annually to fund state water projects and commitments and to pay for the regulation of sports betting through licensed casinos by authorizing a tax on sports betting of ten percent of net sports betting proceeds, and to impose the tax on persons licensed to conduct sports betting?

jstroud@postindependent.com


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