Never mind the governor’s race or who’s running for the legislature. The part of the ballot that could have the biggest impact on Colorado’s future may be three initiatives meant to slash taxes and government spending.
The measures were appealing enough to win over most voters in early polls, but they have since proven so controversial that politicians across the political spectrum, from Democrats to mainstream Republicans to the Tea Party right, are lining up to oppose them.
“I’ve never been as frightened with any measure on the ballot as I have been with these three,” said Tom Clark, executive vice president of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. “This is not a social experiment that we’re dealing with. This is a prescription for economic depression for Colorado.”
Clark spoke on Monday surrounded by a coalition of business leaders at Invesco Field in Denver, where they intended the Broncos’ football stadium full of empty seats to illustrate what they believe will be 73,000 private- and public-sector jobs lost as a result of the measures.
The three issues – amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 – are a trio of belt-tightening measures meant to rein in government spending. They’re backed in part by anti-tax crusader Douglas Bruce, who has refused to testify in a campaign-finance case that resulted in fines against proponents.
Amendment 60 would cancel voter-approved tax limit overrides. Amendment 61 bars the state from selling bonds and limits local governments’ ability to do so. Proposition 101 reduces a variety of taxes and fees, including the state income tax, vehicle registration fees and most telephone fees.
On its website, the group supporting the initiatives, Colorado Tax Reforms, calls the opposition’s claims “nothing less than voter fraud.”
In an increasingly divided political season, the group has succeeded in bringing together a rare show of unity in opposition to the issues. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, the Democratic candidate for governor, has blasted the ballot issues. His opponent, Dan Maes, the Tea Party-backed GOP candidate who has been eschewed by many top state Republicans, opposes it. American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo, a former Republican Congressman who now leads Maes in some polls, initially supported the measures, but has recently suggested he might not.
Contributors to the opposition group Coloradans for Responsible Reform have included such unlikely bedfellows as the Colorado Bankers Association, the teacher’s union Colorado Education, the Colorado Association of Realtors, and the state workers’ Service Employees International Union.
“All Coloradans — conservatives, moderates and liberals — should vote “no” on these damaging proposals,” wrote former Republican Gov. Bill Owens, in a column that appeared in Sunday’s Denver Post.
Owens argued the measures could set the state back decades by gutting public school funding and leaving little left in the budget for colleges, prisons and other purposes. The cuts would particularly hurt charter schools, Owens said, and could slash $2 billion in funding for construction projects each year.
“Some 11,000 construction jobs will be lost — mostly from small business — just part of the estimated 73,000 jobs that these measures will cost Colorado,” Owens wrote.
Supporters of the measures point to a report highlighted in a recent Wall Street Journal article that argued that lower taxes would promote economic recovery.
“The opposition claim has been proven to be an utterly false scare tactic,” said Natalie Menten, spokeswoman of Colorado Tax Reforms.
Opponents say the three proposals would create a $4.2 billion deficit.
The full-court press against the initiatives seems to be working. In a September survey, Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli found that while a slim majority – 51 percent – of voters supported Proposition 101, only about a third of voters supported either of the two amendments. About a quarter said they were undecided.
“The voters themselves have recognized that – after enduring some hard-fought primary campaigns – that some things do go too far,” Ciruli wrote on his blog.