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Consider the consequences

The first round of the 2010 political season is over; with the primary election complete, we know who whose names will appear on the November general election ballot.

Now the real show begins and, as always, it is important we pay close and critical attention to candidates and their claims and promises, and to ballot proposals and their possible effects.

In this day of fevered partisanship, there will be voters who recognize nothing but a candidate’s party affiliation. There will be voters steered by slogans and bombast, voting on the basis of the right buzzword or key phrase, with little or no examination of the matter at hand.

Such could be the case with the vote on three state ballot proposals: Proposition 101 and proposed constitutional amendments 60 and 61.

Regardless of how we choose to vote, the responsible way to approach these proposals is to examine the possible consequences and decide if they are acceptable.

Let’s start with Proposition 101.

Proposition 101 would reduce any number of state and local taxes and fees. It would impose a new and lower state spending limit, and that limit would ratchet down in and after recessionary periods. The measure would require lower spending limits in Colorado counties, cities and towns.

Some estimates have it that a successful Proposition 101 would reduce state income tax revenues by as much as $1.2 billion per year, state and local revenues from sales tax and vehicle fees by $1.1 billion a year, and state revenues from telecommunications fees by $4.5 million. The elimination of FASTER fees could reduce transportation revenues by $179 million and another $164 million would go with reduced vehicle registration, license and title fees. By the time all cuts are totaled, as much as $1.7 billion could be gone.

How might this percolate down to Archuleta County and to the services so many of us want? An examination of the effect of the reduction of just ownership taxes and license fees provides a picture.

In 2009, the local school district received $543,675 from ownership taxes. If 101 passes, that amount could fall to a little over $8,000. Ponder for a moment the fact the district budget was cut more than $1 million for 2011, and could take a drastic hit next budget year, even without 101 on the books.

Archuleta County received $445,215 in 2009. That would fall to just over $7,000.

Local special districts received $432,372 in 2009. That would plummet to a little under $7,000.

The town of Pagosa Springs took in $57,000. That could go down to $902. In a town that has already cut its budget 15 percent.

The average vehicle license fee in Archuleta County in 2009 was $55.16. 101 would cut that amount 82 percent, to an average $10 per vehicle. Sounds good on the surface, but our revenue would go down from $1.04 million to $187,910. The majority of the money goes to the Highway Users Tax Fund, sent to the county to pay for road work.

In 2010, road and bridge funds coming to the county through FASTER were nearly $600,000. Those fees finally made their way here to pay for a backlog of state construction and repair projects. With 101, the amount would be zero.

Here’s the question: What is our commitment to better education for our children, to better and well-maintained roads, to special district services (including water and emergency medical services)? If we don’t care, if the erosion of services is acceptable, we vote for 101.

We don’t think we should easily succumb to a knee-jerk response to anti-tax and anti-fee arguments, fall too quickly under the spell of unexamined “Evil Government” arguments. We think the better course is to vote against 101 and, at the same time, demand more accountability and more effective use of the revenues.

Karl Isberg