Amendment 21: Kill County Government
September 1, 2000
The #1 way to tell that you are from Colorado: You know you're a
Coloradan if there is a Doug Bruce item on your ballot every few years
that scares you silly.
Doug Bruce obviously does not like taxes - especially the ones he has to
pay. And he obviously does not like county government. His latest
effort to cut taxes by ravaging local government is the proposed
Amendment 21 to our state constitution, called Taxcut 2000. It is also
known in some circles as Son of Tabor.
This is not a tax reduction amendment, but a "destroy county government"
amendment. It has been estimated that it will bankrupt 75% of the
special districts in one year. County government is the government
level closest to the people. It is the place where they have the most
personal influence. It is hard to understand why people who hate big
government choose to pick on little government.
There are 1600 special districts in the state of Colorado. These are
not the "big government with bloated bureaucracies" that Mr. Bruce rants
about. They are the counties and cities and special districts providing
services that local voters have voted for -- services essential for safe
and civilized living, like education, public libraries, adequate
police protection, clean water, fire protection, cemeteries. Its effect
on every county in Colorado - and ultimately on the state - would be
"devastating," and I quote every public official of either political
party I have talked to. It would be like killing county government
with ballots instead of bullets.
The Graduate School of Public Affairs, University of Colorado at Denver,
has issued what is probably the clearest analysis of the property tax
portion of the very murky Taxcut 2000. It says, "It appears that (it)
would require each tax bill from each taxing government to be reduced by
$25 during the year 2000, then by $50 during 2002, $75 in the third
year, and so on, increasing $25 each year in perpetuity."
This includes each individual taxing agency which you find listed on
your property tax bill. I pulled out my 1999 tax bill and it lists
eight districts . On four of them the tax is under $25, so in 2001 I
would not pay any tax on any of those, including my favorite Library. My
taxes for Mesa County, Grand Junction and School District 51 are over
$25, but next year I would get $50 knocked off of each one and the next
year $75 and eventually I would not much of any property tax or much of
Bruce says the state would replace all the money. There is no language
in the amendment that requires the state to replace missing local tax
revenue. The state couldn't afford it anyway. Remember TABOR?
Even if it could, do we want the state legislature to control the our
county activities? Bruce wants to put all the power in the hands of the
So what does it mean to you and me if this amendment passes?
District 51 states that the first year the entire emergency reserve will
be gone. The second year a loss of nearly $7 million will be cutting
deeply into personnel and services. The Mesa County Public Library
District will lose 60% of its funding by the second year which will
mean a 60% cut in personnel and in the book budget and elimination of
all non-essential services and some branches. By 2005 the Ute Water
Conservancy District will have lost 76.7% of its county funding. Since
it has an alternate source of funding, however (it can raise its fees) I
can hope that the water coming out of my tap will be safe to drink. The
Lower Valley Fire Protection District, however, has no such supplemental
funding. In 2002 it will have lost 57.7% of its funding and people in
Fruita had better hope their houses don't catch fire and that they can
still buy insurance.
Terry Pickens, Director of the Mesa County Public Library, mused, "I
was just thinking that if all government services disappear, including
schools, people will really need the library. We have survival books on
living off the land and books people can use to teach their children at
home. But since we will be closed........"