Referendums C and D could have major effects

Referendums C and D have added a level of statewide importance to this year's ballot that isn't common for off-year elections.

Instead of an election in which there are mostly local issues on the ballot, billions of taxpayer dollars and the future of numerous state-funded programs are at stake this year.

Referendum C asks Colorado voters to forgo an estimated $3.7 billion that would otherwise be credited back to taxpayers under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

The money would be used for transportation, health care, education and pensions for police officers and firefighters.

Referendum D is a bond for capital investments. The bond would be paid off in part with 10 percent of the money from Referendum C. If Referendum C fails, so does D, but C can pass without D.

Supporters of C and D say the referendums are needed to help state programs that have seen their funding cut in recent years and to ward off future cuts.

Opponents say the referendums would only add to a state government that is already large enough and it will take money out of taxpayers' pockets.

Money from Referendum C is earmarked for schools, roads and health care.

If the referendums don't pass, supporters say as much as $400 million will be cut from the state's budget next year.

Supporters say the cuts will hit disability services and higher education extremely hard.

"The most vulnerable people -- the disabled, senior citizens and low-income people -- are going to be the ones who bear the costs," said Evelyn Tileston, executive director of the Independent Life Center in Craig.

The Independent Life Center serves about 250 people with disabilities in Northwest Colorado, providing services including life skills training, transportation and job placement.

ILC received $23,000 from the state general fund last year, and Tileston said she is concerned that without C and D, legislators will use that money to offset budget cuts next year.

"I have no doubt in my mind that (money) will be taken away," Tileston said.

If ILC were to lose funding, Tileston said the center would have to layoff employees and scale back services. Hours of operation for the ILC van, which shuttles people with disabilities throughout the community, also would be cut, she said.

Although money from C and D is earmarked for disability services, none of it is designated for specific programs, such as the ILC.

Opponents of the measure say that is part of the problem.

"C is a blank check. There's nothing in there that says where it will go," said Dave Pearson, campaign manager for the Colo--rado Club For Growth issue committee.

Pearson said defeating C and D is one of the Club For Growth's chief goals.

In the arguments against C and D listed in the ballot information handbook, opponents say the measure is too broad because it could increase spending for 83 percent of the state's programs, but doesn't specify which ones.

Also at issue is whether C and D are a tax increase.

The measures don't raise the mill levy or increase the tax rate, so supporters say they aren't a tax increase.

But C and D would allow the government to keep additional money at the expense of taxpayers, which opponents say constitutes a tax increase.

The measures have received bipartisan support. Republican Governor Bill Owens and Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, a Democrat, support the measures.

Locally, the city of Craig endorsed the measures a few months ago. The Moffat County commissioners have not passed a resolution on C and D.

State Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, supports the measures.

Taylor spoke to the Moffat County Republican Women on Thursday about the measures, which he says are critical to the state's future, particularly the future of Northwest Colorado.

If the measures fail, Taylor said Northwest Colorado could stand to lose the millions of dollars in energy impact assistance that area governments rely on. That money, Taylor said, would be used to balance the budget if C and D fail.

Whether C and D pass, there is a good chance a small number of voters will decide their fate.

Historically, off-year elections such as November's have much lower voter turnouts than general elections such as 2004.

In 2004, 66 percent of registered voters in Moffat County voted. But in 2003, the last off-year election, 34 percent of Moffat County's registered voters cast ballots. In 1995, 11 percent made it to the polls.

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or bjohansson@craigdailypress.com.

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