Proposition 101 and amendments 60 & 61: The not-so-good, the bad and the ugly
October 12, 2010
The Bad 3. The Ugly 3. Pick a name. More ink and bandwidth have been sacrificed to inform Colorado voters about amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 than any ballot proposals in recent history.And with good reason. Together, they represent nothing less than a catastrophe for public enterprise in Colorado.Yet they are not all peas in a pod, despite the fact that opponents succeeded in defining this debate by lumping them together from the outset.Amendments 60 and 61We refer readers elsewhere to learn about the gory details of these pernicious twins. The 2010 State Ballot Information Booklet is a good place to start.Suffice it to say that the rollbacks and restrictions on borrowing contained in these amendments would cripple Colorado’s government and economic well-being.Our focus instead is on some of the broader issues, starting with the fact that these ill-conceived, vague measures would become part of the Colorado Constitution. Are Colorado voters ever going to learn to stop putting this sort of nonsense in our Constitution, where it festers like a boil on the commonweal?If these measures pass, lawmakers are likely to feel compelled to convene a constitutional convention in order to clean up the accumulated political detritus of the past two decades, starting with TABOR. Talk about unintended consequences: Voters should think long and hard about whether they really want that to happen.None of which is to say we are deaf to taxpayer angst about ever-expanding government. The dramatic contraction in the private sector during the past two years contrasts sharply with a public sector that sometimes appears to be whistling past the graveyard of private enterprise. Overall, public sector salaries and numbers of workers have continued to rise while millions of private workers are unemployed or working harder for less compensation.But that is certainly not the case of all government. East Grand School District, for instance, has laid off a substantial number of teachers and made other cuts, and for the most part our local governments appear to have been reasonably good stewards of our taxes.And therein lies another huge problem with these amendments: Their most destructive impacts will accrue in special districts, school districts and other local governments, the very institutions most accessible to average citizens. Where a scalpel is called for, these amendments rev up a chain saw.We urge a no on amendments 60 and 61; their passage would do nothing less than devastate Colorado’s quality of life and its economy.Proposition 101If taxpayers are so concerned about government spending and growth, we’re puzzled why most public meetings in Grand County look as though a bio-hazard alert has been issued. Citizens at local government meetings – and notably at budget meetings – are as rare as steak tartare.If taxpayers are “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore,” why was there no public outcry when Grand County gave every county employee a 5 percent bonus in January? Ditto when the Town of Granby issued all employees a $1,700 per head bonus?We mention this largess because these are among the few local government actions of late that struck us as gratuitous in the midst of a wrenching recession. They also give lie to the pervasive notion in the debate over the “Ugly 3” that all government services and spending are somehow unassailable.The state, for example, faces a budget shortfall of at least $250 million. Yet officials continue to waste money on studies of loopy proposals such as spending upwards of $35 million this winter on so-called zipper lanes on I-70. And while public officials whine about how all their costs are fixed, they ignore obvious cost-saving measures such as payroll reductions that have become commonplace in the private sector.Proposition 101 would roll back state income taxes and cut vehicle registration fees to an arbitrarily flat $10. This is essentially a response to Gov. Bill Ritter’s obscenely ill-timed “FASTER” vehicle registration fee increases, ostensibly to fund road and bridge improvements. It is a statutory measure, which means the Colorado Legislature and governor could amend or even nullify it.Much disingenuous information about 101 has been circulating, starting with the “fact” sheet making the rounds in Grand County showing 2009 revenue figures as a baseline. This approach conveniently ignores the fact that 2009 figures were inflated substantially by FASTER revenue.A more honest approach would show revenues before FASTER, revenues from which have been used for a great deal more than just roads and bridges. Moreover, opponents of 101 invariably trot out figures from when it is fully implemented. If past measures of this sort are any indication, that’s about as likely as Nancy Pelosi being elected president this November.In its first year, according to the Legislative Council, a fully intact 101 would result in a 6 percent decrease in state revenue. None too few businesses would have felt pretty darn fortunate in recent years to cope with that compared to what they actually experienced.Still, Proposition 101 is damaging enough that we can’t in good conscience recommend voting for it, even if we sympathize in part with its origins. However, if it alone were to pass, it would scarcely be the end of life as we know it in Colorado, and lawmakers would almost certainly undo its most destructive provisions before they could take effect.