District opposes ballot initiatives
By Randy Woock
The Trinidad Times
The board of education for Trinidad School District No.1 came out in opposition at its Aug. 24 board meeting to a series of ballot initiatives intended to curtail a number of state and local taxes and fees.
The resolution approved unanimously by the board calls the initiatives "unnecessary" due to the state constitution already containing provisions that, "require the state to balance its budget and that give citizens the right to vote on all tax increases and creation of debt."
It also adds a concern that the initiatives would "significantly interfere" with the ability of the state and local governments to provide public services and maintain its educational infrastructure. "(S)ales and tax revenue were down significantly because of recent the recession and ... school districts faced an unprecedented 6.3 percent cut in total program funding this fiscal year which was on top of a state-imposed rescission of 2.3 percent in the previous fiscal year," the resolution states.
The initiatives, to be approved or rejected separately by state voters in November, consist of one proposition and two amendments. Proposition 101 calls for the state income tax rate to be decreased – at 0.1 percent per year in years when the state income tax revenue increases by at least 6 percent – down to 3.5 percent from its current level of 4.63 percent. It would also eliminate most state and local charges on telecommunications, as well as requiring annual specific ownership taxes on vehicles to decrease to $2 for new vehicles and $1 for all others. It would also exempt the first $10,000 on vehicle purchases from sales taxes.
According to an analysis of Proposition 101 by The Bell Policy Center, a non-profit research and advocacy group located in Denver, Proposition 101 would sharply reduce the revenues from ownership taxes seen by the six school districts within Las Animas County. The school district receives 36.2 percent of the total revenue from ownership taxes, an amount that in 2009 totaled $761,090. Under Proposition 101, that amount is expected to eventually decline to $9,660 for all six districts. Per vehicle, the average owner in the county would be paying 37 cents per dollar in ownership taxes to schools, rather than the 2009 amount of $34.79.
The about 99-percent drop in ownership taxes revenue to county schools is estimated by the Bell Policy Center lwould ead to an annual funding decline in per pupil dollars. Trinidad School District No. 1 is projected to see an eventual decline in its share of ownership tax revenue at a per-pupil level from its 2009 amount of $224 to $3 once Proposition 101 is fully implemented. Similarly, the Bell Policy Center projected that Primero School District RE-2 could see a per pupil drop from its 2009 level of $1,650 to $21 under a fully implemented Proposition 101. Using similar parameters, Hoehne School District RE-3 could see a per pupil decline from $532 to $7; Aguilar School District RE-6 could see a decline from $555 to $7; Branson School District RE-82 could see that per pupil share of ownership tax revenue decline from $57 to $1 and Kim School District RE-88 could see a decline from $23 to $8.
Amendment 60 could eliminate previously-voted exemptions from the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) for property taxes, and require school districts to phase out half their property mill tax levies over a 10-year period, with the state then be required to backfill the decrease in revenue seen by schools. The amendment does not, however, provide an offsetting revenue source for the state to attempt the required backfilling.
"It will cut in half all local property taxes used for the Trinidad School District (in) their General Fund," Superintendent Mike Tranter said.
Amendment 60 would also allow citizens to vote on property tax issues wherever they own property, revoke some of the fee increases seen by motorists last summer and require property tax rate increases and de-brucing measures to expire within 10 years.
Amendment 61 would prohibit the state from borrowing money. It would require voter approval for local governments to incur debts while requiring those debts to be paid off in 10 years, limiting the debt incurred to 10 percent of as well as requiring tax rates to decline proportionally once the debt is paid, regardless of whether tax revenue was used to pay off the debt.
The initiatives, if approved by voters in November, could possibly aggravate the revenue reductions already expected by county schools due to the projected drop in Las Animas County's assessed valuation. County Assessor Dan Espinoza first announced the projected halving of the county's assessed valuation, effecting the tax revenues collected in 2011, in May, though more finalized projections are expected shortly.
Primero School District R-2, for example, could be facing a possible tax revenue loss of $825,926 or more, and the Aguilar School District R-6 could be looking at a loss in revenue of about $335,282 or greater. Trinidad School District No.1 could be facing a revenue loss in the coming year of about $780,000.
Espinoza had also told Trinidad's school board in May that they could lose about $200,000 on their outstanding bonds due to the valuation drop. Primero, he said, could be facing a $800,000 loss on its outstanding bonds due to the impending drop.
"I think it's important (to support the resolution) because if you've watched the papers and stuff, you may have noticed the proponents of these amendments are starting to start their letter writing campaigns," board member Vic Meyers said at the Aug. 24 meeting. "I suspect that's what their campaign is going to be about across the state, letters to the editor."
Adding, "We're going to have to not be fooled by their small bankroll for opposition, and be diligent in opposing these things."