As odd-year elections go, the 2013 vote in El Paso County certainly won’t stand out as earthshaking. Or, for that matter, even mildly surprising.
Everybody who has been paying the slightest attention had to know the only issue of real interest to the Colorado Springs business community. That was Amendment 66, a sweeping measure that would’ve raised the state income tax rate — by an average of $131 a year for a typical homeowning family — to produce an additional $950 million a year for public education.
The idea might have sounded good to many (what could be wrong with supporting education?), but the details were uncertain at best, the public mood ranged from skeptical to openly negative, and the proponents never could overcome all of that.
By the end, despite the support of Gov. John Hickenlooper, it was obvious that Amendment 66 would suffer a lopsided, inglorious defeat.
And it did, by a statewide margin of 66-34 percent. The measure was approved by only two tax-friendly counties, but only by 52-48 in Denver and 51-49 in Boulder. That alone tells you that Amendment 66 had no prayer, and El Paso County gave it a 74-26 thumping.
What’s the message there? Probably not much new, just a confirmation of the general mood among Colorado voters. In this election, Amendment 66 was no more than a mosquito on an elephant.
But Hickenlooper, though his backing of A-66 was anything but fervent, might come away realizing he could face a rocky path to re-election in 2014. The best thing he has going for him at the moment is that Republicans don’t have a strong and unifying candidate at this point, especially with toxic Tom Tancredo stirring up the far right.
More likely, what we’ll see in 2014 is Republicans focusing more on regaining control of the Legislature, which definitely appears more possible now with the state Senate only an 18-17 split for Democrats. If a handful of House seats go the other way, the GOP could seize the majority there as well.
As for the issue of taxing retail marijuana, it’s clear that most voters accept the mandate of last year’s Amendment 64 allowing possession and sale of recreational marijuana. The state proposal for an excise tax, required by A-64’s implementation, passed in every Colorado county. Now, we’ll simply watch to see how the reality unfolds with Denver being most aggressive in permitting and regulating outlets that will sell retail (not medical) pot.
Most likely, Manitou Springs will become the guinea pig for our region, with its self-imposed moratorium on allowing retail marijuana businesses due to expire on Dec. 31.
Since Manitou’s voters approved their own local marijuana tax by almost the exact margin (67 to 33 percent) that they said yes to A-64 last year, it’s apparent that Manitou’s Council will move forward now. Some Manitou business owners want yet another ballot issue next November, just to be sure, but that effort appears to be too late, since many Manitou residents saw this vote for a local tax as basically asking for the same confirmation.
[pullquote]If you want a clearer idea of how Southern Colorado is feeling these days, look farther south.[/pullquote]
If you want a clearer idea of how Southern Colorado is feeling these days, look farther south.
Down in Pueblo, which has traditionally been far more moderate (OK, liberal) than Colorado Springs, voters were asked to approve a five-year, half-cent sales tax called the “Quality of Life Tax” to provide about $7 million a year for such causes as the Arkansas Riverwalk, arts center, zoo, Colorado State Fair, Pueblo Animal Services and the Nature and Raptor Center there. All of them had been encountering financial troubles, with the animal services in particular facing a potential shutdown.
In years past, Pueblo would have passed such a measure without a flinch. This time, the proposed tax increase failed, 56-44 percent.
There is a local lesson from this election, which city and county leaders here should be learning (or re-learning).
If we see a ballot issue, as soon as 2014, that offers a truly regional stormwater solution, nobody should take its passage for granted. To have a chance, it would require the same kind of deliberate campaign, educating the public and cultivating broad support, that has worked twice for the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority. Otherwise, no matter how smartly it’s put together, a stormwater vote won’t have a chance.
One last point: Since 1984, Pueblo voters have been approving and re-approving a separate half-cent sales tax, specifically earmarked for economic development, the only Colorado city to have such a base of support for pursuing businesses and jobs.
Perhaps a similar idea — and it wouldn’t even have to be a half-cent — could be the answer for Colorado Springs. Someday.