Two groups supporting anti-tax initiatives on Colorado’s November ballot are engaged in a feud that has threatened their efforts to drastically overhaul state finances and alienated prominent conservatives who generally favor lower taxes.
In recent weeks, Natalie Menten, spokeswoman for Colorado Tax Reform, and Gregory Golyansky, vice president of the long-established Colorado Union of Taxpayers, have questioned each others’ credentials even as they both lobby for Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101.
Menten, who runs a Golden auto repair shop, insists she coordinates all three campaigns. But Golyansky has appeared at several debates and given broadcast and newspaper interviews for the anti-tax movement.
Behind the split: Colorado conservatives are deeply conflicted over their anti-tax philosophies. And the anti-tax advocates refuse to reveal who is responsible for getting the three measures on the ballot.
If passed, the combined measures ultimately would cost the state $2.1 billion in revenue annually and still require an additional $1.6 billion in spending on public education, according to a report by the independent Colorado Legislative Council.
Supporters insist that allowing taxpayers to keep their money will create jobs, grow the economy and provide the state the revenue it needs.
Proposition 101 would cut automobile and telecommunications taxes. Amendment 60 would cancel voter-approved tax-limit overrides. Amendment 61 would limit municipal and state borrowing.
Menten says Golyansky, a vice president with the conservative Colorado Union of Taxpayers, should be ignored. She called him “an eccentric egotist” for demanding center stage at campaign events to voice his views of the initiatives, including debates, public television and interviews.
“We can’t stop him from posing as a campaign spokesman,” Menten said. “He does not represent any responsible group, including ours.”
Golyansky says he never claimed to represent Menten’s campaign.
“I have not given interviews nor gone on television and radio programs on behalf of the group Colorado Tax Reform,” he said.
Golyansky said he knows who wrote the three measures, but he refused to identify that person, other than to say the person is an attorney who could suffer retaliation if his name was disclosed.
A judge says anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce was behind them, but Bruce has refused to testify in a campaign finance complaint against the three measures.
Golyansky also took Menten to task for allegedly twisting remarks he made at a recent forum in which he raised the issue of possibly privatizing certain services such as libraries, light rail and some prisons.
“Many things need to be privatized. If these services are needed, private markets will answer that area and will take care of these needs,” Golyansky said Oct. 1.
“He is anti-books, anti-transit, anti-prison. We disagree with him on all three,” said Menten, who ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 2008 and for Lakewood City Council in 2009.
In 2000, Golyansky, then a pawn shop dealer, was indicted on 37 counts of falsifying gun sales. He ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and received one day of probation. Then Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Buck – now the GOP Senate candidate – received a light reprimand from the U.S. attorney for discussing the case with a defense lawyer, though the reprimand also noted Buck’s error was unintentional.
According to federal campaign contribution records, Golyansky gave Buck $700 for his GOP primary race against Jane Norton. Buck’s spokesman, Owen Loftus, said Buck accepted Golyansky’s contribution.
“He’s a citizen and we didn’t return it,” Loftus said.
GOP political consultant Katy Atkinson, who opposes the ballot measures, said conservatives in Colorado are split in part because the initiatives were citizen-generated without the involvement of the state GOP and other establishment politicians.
“I’m really not surprised at the conflict. Conservative Republicans weren’t consulted, and there was no process there to develop this in the open,” Atkinson said.
Former state Senate President John Andrews, a conservative Republican from Centennial, says he hasn’t decided how he’ll vote on the measures. He did say he’s “sorry to see political infighting that is potentially handing victory to liberals on Election Day” on the measures.
Andrews fought attempts to suspend tax surplus refunds to balance the state budget because he believed they were anti-taxpayer.
Lu Busse, a spokeswoman for the 28 organizations in Colorado’s tea party movement, supports the measures. Established GOP leaders such as former Gov. Bill Owens tend to oppose them, while frustrated taxpayers favor them, she said.
“I see it more of a split between the establishment and the elites versus the people,” Busse said.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes, who won the nomination with tea party support, originally supported all three measures but has backed off.
“I like all the bits and pieces of it if they’re implemented over a period of time, but all three at one time will be an onerous burden to the next administrator of our state given the $1 billion shortfall we’ll be looking at,” Maes told business leaders last week.
American Constitution Party Candidate Tom Tancredo also has gone back and forth, first saying he would support all three and then declaring he supports phased in measures and partial limits on municipal borrowing.
Democrat John Hickenlooper opposes all three.