Regarding two statewide ballot proposals that have gained significant public attention, Pitkin County commissioners endorsed one and punted on the other last week.
During their regular meeting Wednesday, commissioners gave unanimous support to Proposition CC, a Nov. 5 ballot item that seeks to loosen government restrictions under Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, better known as the TABOR amendment. If passed, the measure would allow the state to keep tax revenue raised in excess of TABOR limits. Supporters say it is not a tax increase, and that during years of economic downturn, fewer or no excess monies would be collected and available for government use.
The excess revenue would be earmarked specifically for transportation and education purposes, and is viewed as another example of “de-Brucing” the 1992 constitutional amendment so that governments can keep more revenue during times of prosperity. A conservative activist named Douglas Bruce was the driving force of TABOR more than 25 years ago.
In recent weeks, commissioners also discussed whether to support Proposition DD, which would legalize in-person and online sports betting through the state’s casinos in order to provide financial support for projects under the state’s 4-year-old Water Plan. Though commissioners indicated at a previous work session that they didn’t want to come out for or against the measure, a draft resolution was created and the item was listed on Wednesday’s agenda. County Manager Jon Peacock apologized for the inclusion, and commissioners deleted the item from consideration.
Pitkin County election ballots already have been mailed to local voters. They can be filled out and returned by mail or dropped off at boxes located next to the town halls of Basalt and Snowmass Village, as well as a dropbox in front of Pitkin County’s administration building at 530 E. Main St.
Early voting at the county’s administration building starts today and will be conducted through Friday during business hours from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Early voting also will be available at the county building on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Monday, Nov. 4, during business hours. The polls will be open at the county building on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for those who prefer to vote in person on Nov. 5.
Commissioners briefly commented on Proposition CC during their meeting before voting to endorse it last week. Local and state leaders have long complained that TABOR hampers taxing districts and governments’ ability to move forward with vital public initiatives. TABOR requires governments to seek voter approval before raising tax rates or spending excess money collected under existing tax rates when revenue grows faster than the rate of inflation and population growth. Unless voters approve, that excess revenue must be refunded to taxpayers.
The ballot question, if passed, would not change the major provision of TABOR that requires voter approval for any tax hikes, either at the state or local level, commissioners noted.
“This does not raise new taxes,” Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury said at the meeting. “What it does is, in a good year, allows the state to keep any excess revenues above the TABOR limits and then divide those revenues into three specific buckets to help reduce our major shortages in transportation, K-12 education and higher education. That is where the funding must go.”
Commissioner George Newman said the state is in dire need of more money to maintain, repair and upgrade its roads and other infrastructure within its transportation system. Extra revenue also is crucial to the state’s education systems, he said, which in many ways lag behind the systems in other states.
“Passage of [Proposition CC] will allow those extra dollars to go into these crucial areas,” Newman added.
McNicholas Kury cited language of the resolution in pointing out that Colorado spends roughly $2,700 less on K-12 education, per student, than the national average. She also said that 25 percent of the state’s roads and highways are rated in “poor condition.”
Of the money that will go into the “transportation bucket,” 40 percent will be used to aid the transportation needs of local governments, she added.
Commissioner Greg Poschman said the state ranks 48th among U.S. states in funding for K-12 education.
“It’s pretty shocking,” he said. “Usually Colorado is at the front of doing the right thing. It seems we’re at the back of the pack on this one and [Proposition CC] is a way to fix it.”
While there were no comments about Proposition DD during last week’s meeting, commissioners previously expressed dismay over the lack of a detailed spending plan for revenue that would be raised through a 10 percent tax on a casino’s take of profits from sports wagering.
At least one commissioner has described DD as a “Band-Aid approach” to addressing a revenue shortage for state and local water-related initiatives that will take hundreds of millions of dollars to fund. Others appeared to be worried that the money could be used for projects to divert streams and create new reservoirs in the Roaring Fork Valley.
According to Yes on DD, the group that is working to build support for the referendum, the proposed 10 percent tax on profits from casino sports-betting could generate revenue of up to $29 million annually, although that’s a rough estimate.
While commissioners officially decided to neither support nor criticize the proposition, DD has garnered support from many state conservation and environmental groups as well as elected officials — including Pitkin County’s voices in the state legislature, Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, and Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail.