DENVER– Gov. John Hickenlooper sounded hesitant on Tuesday about acting on the survey results from TBD Colorado, a statewide effort launched in February to give voters a voice in setting priorities for the state’s future. Before more than 2,200 participants registered their opinions, they had to watch video pitches that sounded like pleas for tax increases.
“There is a level of division on some things that is going to take some more work,” said Hickenlooper, who seemed to want a greater statewide consensus on the issues. He again gave assurance that he’d cut spending before asking voters to approve a tax increase.
But, were these the survey questions he’d envisioned in February when he talked with reporters?
“As much as humanly possible, I think we want to stay away from some of the really divisive issues — more taxes or less taxes or this is too conservative or too liberal,” Hickenlooper had told The Denver Post. “But in the end, we are hoping we’ll end up with priorities.”
The survey reflected messaging in the videos about under funded education, health and Medicaid, transportation infrastructure, state workforce, the budget – and ridding the Colorado Constitution of cumbersome amendments.
The Gallagher Amendment, Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR) and Amendment 23 were described as conflicting and limiting in a video budget presentation by Cole Finegan, an attorney who served as chief of staff to former Democrat Gov. Roy Romer and to Hickenlooper when he was Mayor of Denver.
Voters approved TABOR, which caps government tax revenues, in 1992, and they passed the Gallagher Amendment, which assesses a much higher tax bite on commercial property than residential, in 1982. Amendment 23, which increases state funding for public schools, was passed by voters in 2000.
The subjects of the state Constitution and the amendments were worded differently on the surveys in May – shaped by the respondents’ discussions at the April meetings in the 40 locations around the state.
In Montrose it was stated, “I support assessment and future modification of the Gallagher Amendment, TABOR and Amendment 23 and how they interact.” More than 92 percent of the 25 respondents strongly agreed. Then asked if they would support repealing them, 55.5 percent strongly agreed.
In El Paso County, home of TABOR founder Douglas Bruce, the survey did not ask about repealing amendments. The state Constitution was simply included on list of issues for future discussion that respondents ranked.
In Central Denver, respondents were asked to rank that list as well as two other statements. Nearly 47 percent strongly agreed with “I support a conversation re: TABOR and regarding consequences that lead to a State Constitutional Convention.” And 57.5 percent strongly agreed with, “I support amending Colorado’s Constitution so that we create a structure that facilitates a sustainable revenue source.”
Regarding tax increases, more than 75 percent of the 17 respondents inEl PasoCountyfavored an increase in the state sales tax. Roughly the same percentage said they “strongly agreed” and “agreed” that revenue could be generated by taxing revenues from oil and gas exploration, drilling and production.
Nicole Hall of Grand Junction said she hopes that when TBD Colorado compiles the responses they will choose “statewide collaborative solutions… not pitting Front Range versus rural Colorado against each other. Historically whenever that happens, we lose.”
In a video presentation, Maria Garcia-Berry, CEO of CRL Associates, who warned that the state’s highways deteriorating and under funded. She lauded former Gov. Bill Ritter for having passed the FASTER Act that assessed fees on vehicle licenses and rental cars – that and state gas tax are the primary sources of highway funds. And that’s not sufficient, she said.
“We have a couple of choices,” said Garcia-Berry. “We can pay a little now or we let our children pay a lot more in the future.”
The mention of FASTER might have been moaned, but maintaining roads was supported by 96 percent of the respondents around the state.
“I think we got 100 percent support on the transportation issues,” said El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams. Participating in the TBD discussions might help direct state funding to the county’s transportation system that, he said, has been “under funded for years – and has endured spending cuts – both in real dollars and inflationary dollars.”
Scoring more “disagree” and “strongly disagree” responses were proposals to pass a statewide mill levy for public schools and empower Hickenlooper to appoint the state Board of Education members.
TBD Colorado, a private funded nonprofit organization, will deliver a final report to the Governor and the Legislature on Nov. 14. TBD said the report is not a scientific survey and did not factor demographics in selecting applicants to participate.