For governments, death by ballot

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By Greg Romberg

People in civilized societies understand that we have collective needs that can be met only through the coordinated efforts of citizens. Many of those collective needs are met through the activities of governments. We expect our federal, state, local and special-district governments to do things that it makes no sense to do individually. We drive on public roads. We get water and dispose of wastewater through governmentally owned utilities. We educate our children in public schools. We protect our homes and businesses through governmental fire departments. We maintain order through governmental law enforcement agencies. Our country is protected by its military.

We expect our governments to operate as efficiently as possible, and it’s always fashionable to berate the government for being wasteful or intrusive. In Colorado, we regularly put checks on our governments through ballot initiatives. This year we’re being asked to consider three interconnected proposals that could literally destroy the ability of governments in Colorado to provide necessary services. If adopted, Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 would choke resources from already strapped governments across our state and make it virtually impossible for us to maintain or build roads, educate children or provide even basic services.

Most simply, Amendment 60 would cut property taxes for our public schools by half. The amendment says the state will make up the difference, but provides no mechanism to do so. Amendment 61 restricts all government bond projects to repayment in 10 years or less. How many people could own homes if they had to use a 10-year mortgage? It also has an absurd provision that once bonds are repaid, taxes must be cut to reflect the repayment, even if there was no increase in taxes to make the bond payments. Proposition 101 is even crazier. It reduces the specific ownership tax on cars to $2 for new vehicles and $1 for used cars. Vehicle registration fees will drop to $10. The state’s income tax will be reduced to 3.5 percent. It eliminates taxes and fees on telecommunications, which will eliminate funding for 911 services. It creates these low fees and taxes with absolutely no thought to what it costs to provide services or how we will pay for them.

At a time when governments across Colorado have cut budgets to the bone, passage of these three initiatives would be devastating. While it may seem appealing to look for ways to reduce what we pay for our societal responsibilities, there needs to be at least of modicum or realism. Prop 101 reduces vehicle fees to levels not seen since 1919. Should we tell automakers not to charge us more than $500 for a new car too? The proposals also are short-sighted. What will it cost us in lost productivity and time to maintain our cars when our entire transportation system deteriorates beyond what is already an unacceptable level? Who will locate a business in a state that votes to destroy its system of public education?

Resist any temptation to support these destructive proposals. I’ve only mentioned the most egregious problems. Each proposal is filled with other time bombs as well. Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 do not deserve our support. Vote against them all.

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.