By Pam Zubeck
The results of the Nov. 5 election in Colorado means the state won’t “start fixing things” any time soon, it appears.
That was the tagline used by backers of Proposition CC, which went down in flames — 55 percent to 45 percent — unlike two local spending measures, which were approved by Colorado Springs voters. (El Paso County voters defeated CC by a margin of 62-38.)
CC would have allowed the state to keep money collected in excess of caps imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. That excess, which could reach billions of dollars over years to come, will continue to be refunded to taxpayers, unless the state seeks voter approval again to retain it.
The CC money, if retained, would have been spent on infrastructure such as transportation, education and higher education.
Sen. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, said so far there’s not a fallback plan beyond Gov. Jared Polis’ proposed budget for the next fiscal year, which was issued recently and does not include money from the CC retention measure.
“There was optimism [Proposition CC] might pass,” Lee said. “We have not developed an alternative plan. The budget was submitted last week, and it was premised on the idea of existing revenues…, so we are proceeding with a budget that does not include the $300 million that CC would have provided. Given the dire condition of the state’s transportation system and the rising $9 billion to $10 billion backlog of projects, Lee said an infusion of cash is needed to fix roads.
“The gas tax hasn’t gone up since, what, 1992, which is the primary funding mechanism,” he said. “We also are constrained by TABOR and other spending limitations.”
The failure of CC, he said, sets up a competition among the state’s top priorities: health care, transportation and education. Another demand comes from the criminal justice system, on which the state expects to spend $1 billion next year, he said.
“There’s only a limited amount of resources,” Lee said, adding that Democrats will be willing to work with Republicans to find ways to fund those priorities, including discussing a massive bond issue. “I think all options are on the table. I don’t think we should preclude anything.”
The other state measure, Proposition DD, which directed taxes on sports betting to the state’s water plan, edged out a win by the slimmest of margins, 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent, according to unofficial results on the Colorado Secretary of State’s website. (El Paso County voters defeated it by a 54-46 margin.)
While supporters contended DD would generate about $27 million toward the state’s water plan, Coloradans for Climate Justice said that amount is “tiny” and gives citizens a sense of false security that the state’s water needs will be met.
The group said in a statement:
“The supporters of Prop DD spent about $2.5 million in this election. We spent zero dollars opposing DD. We opposed DD out of the principle that the public taxpayer should not pay for climate damage to our rivers and water supply caused by fossil fuel corporations. The damage caused to our water supply and economy by climate change will likely be in the billions of dollars. Further, the amount of money DD would raise for the Colorado Water Plan is tiny, and it will likely only replace money that was already allotted for the Colorado Water Plan, not add to it. So let the betting begin, but betting against climate change is a bad bet that only a lousy gambler would make.”
The Colorado Sun reports only 36 percent of registered voters in the state cast ballots.
El Paso County voter turnout was the same, but unlike statewide, voters were in a generous mood when it came to Colorado Springs. They handed Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers two victories to continue his undefeated record for several tax and fee measures he’s proposed since taking office in 2015.
Measure 2C, approved 65-35, continues the special tax to fund street improvements, but lowers the tax to .57 percent from .62 percent enacted by voters in 2015 for five years. The new tax takes effect Jan. 2, 2021.
Measure 2B, which allows the city to keep $7 million in TABOR excess money to spend on parks, passed by a lesser margin — 57-43. City officials have previously said the money would be spent on various projects, including overhauls of three downtown parks: Alamo Park, Antlers Park and Acacia Park.
Suthers issued this statement:
“On behalf of the Council and myself I want to express our gratitude for the confidence and trust the citizens of Colorado Springs have placed in our efforts to improve critical public infrastructure. In 2015 we had an infrastructure deficit of $1.5B — primarily, our roads and stormwater system. We could not have solved the problem without the cooperation of our citizens, but we have secured the citizens’ support and we are solving the problems. And as we predicted, the public investment in our city is being matched by massive private investment.”
Other local balloting results:
• Only 24 votes kept a sales tax increase measure from passing in Manitou Springs. The new money would have funded improvements to Manitou Art Center, Manitou Springs Heritage Center and Miramont Castle, among other projects.
• But voters overwhelming approved, by a 76-24 margin, allowing the city to spend $182,000 from the public facilities fund on downtown projects.
• John Graham defeated Alan Delwiche in the mayor’s race by a 52-48 margin.
Colorado Springs School District 11 voters elected incumbent Mary Coleman, Darleen Daniels, Jason Jorgenson and Parth Melpakam to the school board.
• Voters defeated a 10-year road tax by a 58-42 margin.
• Only two votes separate third and fourth place finishers in the race for two at-large City Council seats. Richard Applegate won a seat handily, but neighborhood activist Fran Carrick edged out Detra Duncan by only two votes for the other seat.
In Crippler Creek, 54.3 percent of voters elected to recall Timothy Braun, the Cripple Creek-Victor School District president. Mary Bielz, the founder of a Cripple Creek nonprofit, will replace him.
The recall followed efforts by a group called Hear Us: For Better Schools to unseat three school board members who it claimed had violated state statutes and district policies. The other two targeted school board members, Treasurer Dennis Jones and Secretary Tonya Martin, resigned in June.
Schools and fire
While three school districts — Lewis-Palmer 38, Miami Yoder JT60 and Calhan RJ1 — saw debt measures defeated, Tri-lakes Monument and Stratmoor Hills fire protection districts won approval of their tax measures. Two other fire districts, serving Peyton and Hanover, saw tax measures defeated.
As for various marijuana issues across the state, the Colorado Municipal League reports:
- Mead voters said no to medical marijuana businesses and retail marijuana establishments. Center and Loveland’s questions allowing cultivation, manufacturing and testing in addition to sales were also defeated. Loveland voters also turned down a tax on marijuana sales.• Craig voters approved three marijuana questions: to allow retail sales; to allow cultivation, manufacturing, testing and storage; and a tax on marijuana sales.• An initiated ordinance passed in Alamosa banning the outdoor growing of personal marijuana and overturning outdoor growing regulations previously adopted by the city council.• Louisville voters opted to permit retail marijuana cultivation facilities within the city’s industrial zones, as well as the corresponding retail marijuana cultivation facility excise tax.• A retail marijuana sales tax also passed in Las Animas.