‘Big 3’ ballot issues garner big opposition

By Ellen Miller
WESTERN SLOPE CORRESPONDENT

GRAND JUNCTION – Colorado has plenty of money, and, unless the state’s voters further restrain it, state government will continue to divert funds into programs it shouldn’t be funding, a backer of the so-called Big 3 ballot issues told Club 20 last weekend.

“I’m tired of hearing that the state is broke,” said Debbie Schum, a rancher from Delta County’s North Fork Valley. “The state is not broke.”

In front of a hostile but polite crowd, Schum debated Denver political operative Rick Reiter on the merits of Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 — three measures that have attracted more than $4 million and a constellation of governmental, business and union groups against them.

“If these pass, we’ll become the only state in the union without public financing,” Reiter said. “What I hate is that these initiatives are created in a vacuum and tend to be a huge over-reach.”

Amendment 60 would restore the original intent of the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, or TABOR, by cancelling more than 500 Tabor over-ride votes throughout Colorado. Future over-rides would be limited to four years. In addition, it would limit any property taxes increases to 10 years, and cut in half existing property tax levies for schools, requiring the state to fill in the remainder.

Amendment 61 would require voter approval of all debt financing, including lease-purchase agreements, and would limit such debt to 10 years. It would completely ban any borrowing by state government.

Proposition 101 would roll back recently imposed (and widely unpopular) fee increases on vehicle ownership tax, reducing them to $2 for new vehicles and $1 for older ones. Vehicle registration would be a flat $10, ending one of the principal sources of funds for the Highway Users Tax Fund. It also would slash sales tax on vehicles and eliminate sales taxes on telecommunications, and cut the state income tax by 25 percent over several years.

“The state Constitution says no loans and we want the Constitution upheld,” Schum said. “No state borrowing, period. There would be local bonding by voter approval only and limited to 10 years. The millions and millions (of dollars) spent on interest payments won’t be any more.”

Reiter, however, said school finances would be cut in half and require the state to backfill at the same time other measures would slash state revenues.

“The state is not broke, no matter what you say,” Schum said. “This state has the second highest income taxes even after this reduction. And if the state wants nuisance taxes on our phone bills, the state can ask the voters.”

“You want to overturn Tabor elections in 500 jurisdictions,” Reiter said. “Your 10-year limit (on public debt) isn’t practical because you need to spread the cost out 40 years for a 40-year piece of equipment or building.”

Reiter asked Schum repeatedly who wrote the three initiatives and who paid to get them on to the ballot.

“Look at the SOS (secretary of state) website,” Schum answered each time.

Her final thought to Club 20: “Remember we heard that TABOR would lead to anarchy? Now we want to close the loopholes in TABOR. It’s our right to petition government. It’s our money.’’

Club 20 is one of a number of organizations that formally opposes the initiatives. Opponents were handing out “No” yard signs in the hall.

ellenm@acsol.net