DENVER — In the first Colorado gubernatorial debate Thursday, the candidates who often generally agreed on the issues veered widely in their positions toward three proposed tax-slashing amendments engineered by Colorado anti-government figure Doug Bruce and scheduled for the ballot in November.
Amendment 60 would cut mil levies and roll back some previous tax increases; Amendment 61 would prohibit the state from borrowing money, require local governments to get voter approval to borrow and require them to pay back all new debt within 10 years; and Proposition 101 would cut the state income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 3.5 percent, cut vehicle registration fees and taxes and eliminate most telephone taxes and fees. Analysts up and down the political spectrum have said the proposals would slash state revenue by a billion dollars and alter the shape of government in the state.
Democrat John Hickenlooper said he opposes all three measures — Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101. American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo said he supports all three measures. Republican Dan Maes said he supports Amendment 60 but opposes 61 and 101.
Hickenlooper said passing any one of the initiatives would put an “unreasonable strain on the state.”
Tancredo said he recognizes that “everybody thinks they are draconian in nature” but that he thinks “the people of the state of Colorado are not under-taxed. We are over-governed” and that the three measures are a reaction to the fact that people feel over-burdened by government.
Maes Thursday said that if the state was flush, he would probably support all three but, given the state is expecting a $1 billion shortfall next year, he said he didn’t think it was a good idea to cut state revenues by an additional billion, which passage of all three might do.
Maes said all three issues garnered more than 150,000 signatures in getting on the ballot and are a reflection of the anger people feel toward state government.
Current Democratic governor Bill Ritter condemned the measures on the campaign trail before exiting the governor’s race and in his state of the state speech in the spring. He said the Colorado government, already one of the leanest in the country, would be transformed by the measures. “Somethings would just have to go away,” he told the Colorado Independent in December.
One-time Republican front-runner in the race Scott McInnis, the six-term congressman who lost to Maes in last month’s GOP primary, also rejected the proposals. He said the “math just doesn’t add up.”
Opposition to the three measures, joined by citizen rights groups and a host of good government groups in the state, is well-funded and well-organized.
Proponents of the measures, however, have been hard to identify and difficult to pin down. Petition gatherers for the measures were a staple at tea party events throughout the fall and spring, many of whom turned out to be paid or supported illegally. A court case against the initiatives argued by attorney Mark Grueskin turned up evidence that Bruce, a controversial former lawmaker and the author of the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, had authored the initiatives and had directed the proponents and petition gatherers behind the scenes. Bruce has sparred with judges and prosecutors all summer over the matter.
[ Image: Hickenlooper, Maes, Tancredo ]
Additional reporting by John Tomasic.