Gloom and despair – and a radically reduced state government – that’s what community leaders promised if Amendments 60 and 61, and Proposition 10, all pass in November.
An array of leaders from the business, legal and educational communities spoke at a rally this morning concerning the “devastating” effects that can be expected if amendments 60 and 61, as well as proposition 101 pass on the statewide ballot.
The rally took place on the south lawn of the Pioneers’ Museum, which was decorated with bunches of black balloons, apparently meant to emphasize the serious consequences of the initiatives. More than 200 people showed up to the protest the initiatives.
Chamber of Commerce CEO Dave Csintyan warned that while the three initiatives promise immediate tax relief to individual taxpayers, the severe revenue reductions coupled with a virtual prohibition upon government debt of any kind would cripple Colorado’s economy.
“Small businesses will be especially hard hit,” said Csintyan. “I’m a fiscal conservative, but these are not conservative measures.”
Csintyan predicted that the initiatives would cost Colorado 73,000 jobs, half from the private sector.
Attorney General John Suthers was grimly specific.
“No other state is burdened with such crippling (constitutional) provisions,” he said. Noting the complexity of Colorado’s constitution, Suthers predicted that the interaction of 60, 61 and 101 would so decimate the state’s budget that there would be no money for courts, for corrections, for transportation, or for higher education.
“Under the constitution, the legislature will have to devote 99 percent of the general fund to education,” Suthers said. “This is not conservative government – this is anarchy.”
School District 11 superintendent Tom Gledich predicted that school budgets would in any case be so deeply cut that all extracurricular activities would be eliminated, high school classes would swell to 50 students, and that all of D-11’s charter schools would see their budgets cut by as much as 27 percent.
“Be ready for five-month summer vacations,” he said, “and you may see schools close for a month or two while they wait for property tax receipts to come in. We won’t be able to fund payroll.”
Under amendment 61, he pointed out, school districts would be unable to use short-term debt to finance operations, as they have for many decades.
Pam Shockley-Zalabak, chancellor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, was equally blunt.
“If these initiatives pass,” she said, “there will be no more public higher education in Colorado as we know it.”
As well as cutting off state funding, the initiatives will bring an abrupt halt to all building on campus.
“Thanks to legislative initiatives sponsored by Keith King and Andy McElhany (both of whom then represented Colorado Springs in the state legislature),” Shockley said, “ we were able to issue revenue bonds to build dorms and other facilities. Those bonds didn’t cost taxpayers a nickel – they were supported by user fees. But because such bonds will be limited to 10-year terms, we couldn’t do it. The payoff period is just too short.”
Michael Gifford, the executive director of Associated General Contractors of Colorado, the construction industry’s trade association, issued equally dire predictions.
“Unemployment in the (Colorado) construction industry stands at 17 percent,” he said. “That’s twice the national average. These initiatives will cost us another 60,000 jobs. We don’t want to double down on the great recession.”
Gifford said that AGC has raised $600,000 to fight the initiatives, a substantial part of the $4 million raised by the umbrella organization fighting the initiatives, Coloradans for Responsible Reform.
Although supporters of the initiatives have raised little money, opponents may have a fight on their hands. According to one prominent community leader at the rally, who would not consent to be identified, the initiatives are “polling well.”
“They’re ahead in Colorado Springs,” he said. “We’ve got a job to do.”
Amendment 60 would cut school funding statewide, by forcing school districts to cut property taxes by 50 percent. Amendment 61 curtails government ability to issue bonds for capital needs, like schools, fire stations or water projects. Proposition 101 limits annual vehicle registration fees to $10, regardless of vehicle size or weight. The Colorado Department of Transportation estimates its budget would be cut by $277 million.