Dubbed “The Ugly 3” by opponents, Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 on the Colorado ballot propose statewide cuts in taxes and fees that could cost the state billions of dollars in revenue and force severe cuts in social services, road repairs and capital building programs.
All three measures are being pushed by an anti-tax group called CO Tax Reforms, which says they are the result of “taxpayers’ revenge” for motor vehicle fee increases voted by the legislature last year and a mill-levy freeze enacted in 2007.
“The mill-levy freeze was an unconstitutional tax increase that amounts to more than a billion dollars taken from taxpayers without our approval,” CO Tax Reforms campaign coordinator Natalie Menten says. The 2007 legislation froze property-tax rates, rather than decreasing them, and gave millions back to the state.
Amendment 60 would repeal the mill-levy freeze but also undo elections across the state over the last few years in which counties, school districts and municipalities opted out of funding restrictions forced by the 1992 Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR. The amendment also would slash local property taxes by 50% over the next 10 years, costing the state nearly $350 million in the first year alone.
Opponents say the measure would make it nearly impossible for the state to maintain its current K-12 funding levels, which were cut 6% last year, without going much deeper into the state’s general fund and cutting other programs as a result
Amendment 61 is potentially the most devastating for contractors because it would prohibit any kind of borrowing by the state and limit borrowing by local governments to only 10-year terms—and only if the voters approve. As such, it aims to cut state debt and put that money toward other services.
Opponents estimate that passage of the amendment would cost the state its estimated $2 billion in annual public projects and make Colorado the only state in the country without the capacity to borrow. It includes a ban on the use of certificates of participation for capital projects, which the state has used widely in the past. The inability to borrow could also impact school districts, transit agencies and even the state’s own Dept. of Employment, which borrows from the Feds to keep its unemployment program afloat.
Proposition 101 cuts state fees and sales taxes on rental cars, erases fees and taxes on phones and lowers income taxes by nearly 25%—cutting state taxes by an estimated $1.4 billion in the first year. Income taxes would drop from 4.63% a year to 4.5%, with annual reductions of 0.1% every year that tax collections grow by more than 6%.
Stiff opposition to these measures has come from a coalition of chambers of commerce, civic groups, businesses, nonprofits, labor groups and the construction industry. In all, more than $6 million has been raised to defeat them.
The state’s construction and design communities have raised approximately $1 million to toward that goal. The American Council of Engineering Cos. of Colorado donated $49,999 to the effort.
“They sound good, but in time they will take money away from the general fund, essentially taking away from state-funded programs, schools, and so forth,” says Marilen Reimer, ACEC/CO executive director.
“These measures simply go too far,” says Michael Gifford, executive director, Associated General Contractors of Colorado. “They require payment in advance on the state’s largest infrastructure, highway, school and higher education needs. Taxpayers in a single year would be required to pay the entire cost of a road or dam that will be around for decades. Public projects will effectively grind to a halt.
“They are also job killers. Colorado has already lost 110,000 jobs in the last 18 months of the recession,” he adds. “And the construction industry here has borne the brunt of those job losses—60,000 jobs since June 2006.”