Amendment 51: Funding for Developmental Disability Services

(Photo/jemsweb, Flickr)
(Photo/jemsweb, Flickr)

When Coloradans decide on the myriad issues appearing on this fall’s ballot, families of residents with developmental disabilities are hoping the idea of helping those who can’t help themselves trumps voters’ aversion to approving a tax increase.

Amendment 51 asks voters to increase state sales tax by two cents on every $10 purchase in order to raise $186 million annually to fund services for Colorado’s developmentally disabled residents. The tax would be increased incrementally over two years.

Last year Colorado spent $184 million to serve over 11,000 residents with developmental disabilities ranging from mental retardation to autism and epilepsy, but almost 10,000 developmentally disabled residents are on a growing waitlist for service, according to Amendment 51 advocates.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the ARC of Colorado and the chairperson of the Amendment 51 campaign, said those individuals and their families aren’t underserved — they’re not served, sometimes waiting years for assistance that could help developmentally disabled individuals function on a day-to-day basis as well as alleviate the burden they place on their family members, many of whom are trying to work or raise other children.

“It’s easy to explain. It’s a one percent increase in the state sales tax with the money dedicated to people who are already identified, who are already eligible. It’s a very small price to pay to do what most of us think government does anyway — provide that safety net,” Rymer said.

Amendment 51 isn’t facing any organized opposition, although the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) author Rep. Doug Bruce, R-Colorado Springs, has voiced his opposition to the proposal.

Supporters of Amendment 51 had raised $177,000 to campaign for the issue by Sept. 10, according to the Colorado secretary of state’s office.

The Blue Book, Colorado’s voter guide, includes three arguments against Amendment 51: Any additional sales tax could harm the state’s economy; the proposal would unnecessarily expand government; state dollars should be allocated through a deliberative process at the state legislature rather than at the ballot box.

Colorado’s 2.9 percent state sales tax is low compared with other states, although counties and cities add their own additional sales tax to purchases throughout the state.

Last year the state Legislature held committee hearings on the need to end the waitlist, with many caregivers for individuals with developmental disabilities giving emotional testimony, but ultimately advocates of increased funding for developmental disability services concluded that state lawmakers wouldn’t be able to carve out a large enough piece of the already strained state budget to end the wait, Rymer said.

“Our lawmakers have done all they can to identify resources. The problem is just too big,” Rymer said. “The waiting list has gotten so big and so out of control, without a significant source of new funding it simply can’t be addressed.”

The additional $186 million that would be raised by Amendment 51’s passage would essentially double state spending on assistance to those with developmental disabilities, which would be enough to fund services for the 12,000 individuals expected to be on the waiting list by 2010, proponents of the ballot initiative argue.

For the past 10 years Kathy Crawford and her husband, Paul, have struggled to raise their autistic son, Kale, often at the expense of her two other children, her health and her marriage. The family waited five years for assistance — with Kale even spending five months in foster care as the family struggled to meet his needs.

Crawford, a stay-at-home mom, said she couldn’t take Kale to watch one of his older brothers’ football games because he would strip naked in public, throw things and refuse to follow directions.

“We don’t get to make the choices about the children we are given. You just hope that given the chance you can find the right resources to make it so you can survive, and there are a lot out there that are waiting,” she said.

Some developmentally disabled residents may need speech therapy or job training, or simply help getting to the grocery, while others may need in-home care.

The Crawfords currently receive assistance from Mosaic, a social services provider near their Fort Collins home.

After a few nurses and home aides refused to work with Kale, who Crawford describes as a wild, 100-pound gorilla, the family found a handful of health care professionals that now assist them, taking Kale on outings to give Crawford a chance to watch her other son’s games or eat a meal with her husband — thing that make all the difference, she said.

If voters approve Amendment 51, the additional revenue will be funneled into an already existing system of 20 community-centered boards that directly provide services to those in need or contract with smaller service providers in the area.

“If I looked at it from the outside, I know the lady across the street would do whatever she could, taxwise, knowing [the assistance has] made it so my family wasn’t lost, because I got off the waiting list,” Crawford said.

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