Petitions target Colorado state spending; 3 circulating
By Tim Hoover
The Denver Post
A trio of initiative petitions being circulated in Colorado would slash at least $1 billion annually in state taxes, roll back property taxes statewide and dramatically limit government's ability to construct new buildings.
The three initiatives, besides having similar themes of limiting government, also share what appear to be common connections to former state Rep. Doug las Bruce, R-Colorado Springs, the father of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights in the state constitution.
"They (the initiatives) are clearly grounded in an anti-government philosophy that seeks to undermine the public sector's ability to support or maintain some of the critical public structures that are out there," said Wade Buchanan, president of the liberal Bell Policy Center, one of the chief critics of TABOR.
Bruce, who made headlines recently after being cleared on a trespassing ticket issued when he was circulating petitions outside a Colorado Springs Costco, refused to speak to The Denver Post.
"I don't want to talk to you. Goodbye," he said when reached by telephone on Friday.
Initiative 10 would, over four years, slash vehicle registration fees, which lawmakers raised this year, to just $2 for new vehicles and $1 for older ones. It would reduce the state's income tax from its current 4.63 percent to 4.5 percent by 2011, decreasing annually to a low of 3.5 percent. And it would eliminate all taxes and fees on cellphones, pagers, landline telephones, cable, satellite and Internet services, except for current 911 fees.
Buchanan and others estimated the decrease in income tax alone would cost the state at least $1 billion a year. The state is facing its worst budget crisis since the Great Depression, and, even after filling an existing $320 million hole in August, still has a $240 million shortfall in the current fiscal year that began July 1.
Similar to failed House bill
Initiative 12, meanwhile, is aimed at property taxes. Though legal experts say its intent is not entirely clear, it is believed it would "re-Bruce" local school districts whose voters opted out of TABOR limits, and repeal a 2007 mill-levy freeze law that kept property tax rates from falling.
Finally, Initiative 21 would prevent governments from using certificates of participation. These financial instruments essentially are leaseback arrangements where the state can buy back the buildings it constructs over years of payments.
The state, which is prohibited from bonding, commonly uses certificates of participation to construct new buildings on college campuses and for a host of other capital-improvement projects. Critics say the measure would make it highly difficult for the state to do construction projects.
Initiatives 10 and 12 bear a resemblance to House Bill 1245, a measure Bruce sponsored in 2008 that was unsuccessful.
But all three of the measures share other similarities.
Websites put up by proponents for all three measures appear to share a similar design template that looks like the one Bruce uses for his websites. Meanwhile, publicly available information show the Internet domains for the three sites were registered by the same Colorado Springs company Bruce used to register his sites, and all of the sites are running on the same server that Bruce's sites use.
Proponents of Initiative 10 asked for e-mailed questions from a reporter but then did not respond to the questions.
Proponents of the other two measures offered little explanation when contacted by The Post, mostly saying the initiatives spoke for themselves and referring to information on the websites.
"Any information you need is on my website," said Louis Schroeder of Greenwood Village, a proponent of Initiative 12, which would roll back property taxes.
Asked whether Bruce was involved in the initiative, Schroeder responded: "I'm not going to discuss that."
Russell Haas, a proponent of Initiative 21 from Golden, which would prohibit certificates of participation, said "the thing (initiative) speaks for itself. If you can't afford anything, you shouldn't have to pay for it in the future."
Haas also refused to answer questions about whether Bruce was connected to the initiative.
"I've said enough," he said, hanging up on a reporter.
Michelle Northrup of Black Hawk, another proponent of the initiative, had a similar response when a reporter asked about Bruce's involvement.
"I guess I don't have anything to say about that," she said.
It takes the valid signatures of 76,047 registered voters to get an initiative on the November 2010 ballot. Signatures for Initiatives 10 and 12 are due Nov. 13, and signatures for Initiative 21 are due Nov. 27.
Tim Hoover: 303-954-1626 or firstname.lastname@example.org