Gov. Bill Ritter last week decried a trio of anti-tax initiatives heading for the Colorado ballot next year and challenged his Republican opponents to recognize the threat the initiatives pose to the state and come out strongly against them.
“The problem is that voters concerned with federal spending will be looking for a solution to that problem. This is not the solution. It’s a misguided strategy,” Ritter told the Colorado Independent.
“Just one of these initiatives would alter state government. We’re talking about an estimated $1.2 billion drop in revenue after years already of cutting services. The amount the initiatives propose to cut would slice into our higher education budget by a factor of two. Something would have to simply go away.”
Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer said the governor’s office refers to the three proposals as the “anti-society initiatives.”
Ritter said his staff is discussing how best to battle the proposals and said his office was committed to doing “everything we can” to make sure they fail to pass. He challenged his main campaign opponent, former Congressman Scott McInnis, to take a stand on the issue.
“McInnis’s main primary rival [Senate Minority Leader Josh] Penry has come out against the initiatives. I think he called them ‘preposterous’… If McInnis would come out, then we could get real momentum. If all the candidates speak to this, it would clearly be significant.”
McInnis has been fending off critics recently who say his approach to the state budget crisis has so far lacked substance. Activist group ProgressNow last week mockingly sent him the proposed 2010 budget as a Christmas gift, suggesting he refrain from attacks on Ritter until he can detail exactly how a McInnis administration would balance the budget, including where he would make cuts. If McInnis were to endorse the 2010 anti-tax initiatives, he would, of course, have to propose a budget that accounts for additional radically shrinking revenue.
McInnis spokesman Josh Green told the Colorado Independent three weeks ago that the former Congressman had yet to closely review the tax proposals and hadn’t decided whether he would support or oppose them. At press time, Green didn’t return calls for updated comments.
Evergreen businessman Dan Maes, McInnis’s Republican primary rival, is running as the true small-government grassroots conservative in the race. He called McInnis a “monster” propped up by big money donors and the state and national party.
“Maes is attracting lots of Tea Party support at this point, so I’m not sure where he’ll stand,” said Ritter, referring to the anti-tax Tea Party movement, which has picked up steam in Colorado and across the country as ambitious federal legislation proposes, for example, to remake the U.S. health care system.
On Dec. 4, the Secretary of State’s office approved hundreds of thousands of signatures in favor of two of the Colorado initiatives. They will likely appear on the ballot as proposed Constitutional Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101. Petition gatherers have reportedly found energetic support at Tea Party rallies.
“There is understandable fear across the state about government at the federal level. Health care reform is a big part of that,” said Ritter. “But people forget we prosecuted two wars while we cut taxes under the Bush administration. We’re still dealing with that.
“The state can’t spend money that way,” said Ritter referring to federal deficit spending. “In fact, we have a growing mandate to spend [more] at the state level on K-12 education.”
One of initiatives seeks to reduce state property taxes. Another would slash annual revenue by roughly $50 million in income taxes alone, based on figures from 2005, dropping the state income-tax rate rate from 4.6 percent to 3.5 percent over 10 years. It also proposes to cut sales, service and rental taxes and fees on motor vehicles and communication products and services — on car purchases and leases and on mobile phone and Internet and pager accounts, for example. The last initiative would limit the kind of borrowing the state can undertake.
Ritter is not surprised by the effort the proposals represent, even given the news reported nearly each week this past year of the deep cuts being made to state programs.
“In this state, there’s still a very conservative movement determined to cut government any way it can. [The effect of the initiatives] would be very serious. It would be absolutely devastating,” he said.
“You know, people want to pay less taxes. It’s easy to understand. They’d like to take off work on Fridays. They want a lot of things. You know, it appeals. But it’s just bad strategy. And as long as we can put things so easily into our constitution, narrow interests can work the system.”
Analysts have suggested that Doug Bruce, the author of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, is behind the initiatives. Face the State reported this summer that the six proponents were working together to round up signatures.
The sponsors of the three initiatives said they are working together to qualify the initiatives for next year’s election, but would not provide further information as to the connection between them. Michelle Northrup, a Black Hawk resident and proponent of Initiative 21, referred all questions to the initiative Web sites. “We really want people directed to the Web sites, and we don’t anything we say to be misinterpreted,” she said.
It’s very likely former state Rep. Doug Bruce, a Colorado Springs Republican who originally authored TABOR, is at the center of the effort. All three initiative Web sites have a similar style and low-budget appearance as Bruce’s own site, and all are hosted on the same computer server registered to a Colorado Springs IT consulting company.
Ritter said there was still much discussion ongoing within his administration and among lawmakers on how to increase the integrity of the ballot initiative process.
“Last year we made it more difficult for petition gatherers to commit fraud. We took steps. But those efforts went into effect too late to apply to these measures,” said Ritter.
He referred readers to the recommendations made by a University of Denver panel on the matter last year.
“We’re still talking about calling a commission together to rework part of the constitution,” he said.