To explain voters’ choices on ballot measures Amendment 60, Amendment 61 and Proposition 101, Michele Conroy put a finer point on Benjamin Franklin’s famous adage that “death and taxes” are life’s only certainties.
“Death we have no control over, but taxes we do,” said Conroy, a second-grade teacher at Sandrock Elementary School and member of the Moffat County Education Association. “But, with that control comes responsibility in examining taxes and understanding what the impacts of those taxes are, or the impacts from loss of taxes.”
MCEA, a local teachers’ union that includes 152 members, examined the potential impacts of the ballot measures and reached a unanimous stance.
“Opposition to all three,” Conroy said.
The measures propose to cut taxes and fees, and eliminate state borrowing. They will appear on the Nov. 2 general election ballot throughout the state.
“Our stance is the same as the city, the county and the school district (administration),” MCEA President David Grabowski said. “We find that they’re going to be bad for the community, particularly for the (school district). From the district’s point of view — if the projections are true — we could lose 50 percent of the funding per student, which is about $3,000 per student.”
Conroy agrees that the proposals severely jeopardize per pupil funding.
“Some polls say that we’re 46th in the nation, some polls say that we’re 48th in the nation on per pupil funding,” Conroy said of Colorado. “If these measures pass, there’s less tax base to go into education, (and) we will fall extremely below that level.”
According to the Bell Policy Center, Amendment 60 amends the state constitution to: cut property taxes for schools in half by 2020; repeal all elections that allowed local governments to retain property tax revenues above the Taxpayer Bill of Rights limits; require future retention votes to expire after four years; require future votes to increase property taxes to expire after 10 years; require the state to backfill reduced property tax revenues; require public enterprises and authorities to pay property taxes; require local governments to cut property taxes to offset the new revenues; and re-set local TABOR limits to lower levels.
Conroy, who is a former co-president of MCEA and a current board member for the Colorado Education Association and representative for rural schools on the Governor’s Commission for Quality Teaching, acknowledges the amendment could be tempting to some voters.
“It’s enticing to have your property taxes lowered, but with that comes an extreme cost,” she said. “This is too extreme a measure. I want people to understand when they go to the polls that less means less.”
Conroy said the Moffat County School District would have little choice but to cut jobs.
“(The district) would have to look at reducing numbers of teachers and instructional support in the classrooms,” she said. “So, a loss of jobs not only in teachers, but aid support, and possibly administrators and custodial support.
“It would probably mean increasing class size.”
Amendment 61 amends the state constitution to: ban all borrowing by the state; lower caps on local borrowing by 60 percent or more; limit local borrowing to 10 years; require voter approval of borrowing; and require taxes to be cut when borrowing is paid off, according to Bell.
Conroy said the state currently borrows money on the open market and lends that money to some school districts interest free each year to help fill temporary gaps in cash flow.
Some districts, she said, need the money for payroll and operational costs during the winter months before local taxes are collected in the spring.
Once the taxes are collected, the school districts pay their debts to the state, and the state pays down their loans.
If Amendment 61 prevents the state from borrowing, Conroy said the school districts that depend on the money will face tough decisions, including possible school closures.
Proposition 101 changes state law to: reduce income taxes from 4.63 percent to 3.5 percent over time; cut taxes and fees on vehicles; exempt leased and rented vehicles from sales tax; exempt the first $10,000 of vehicle purchases from sales tax; eliminate fees on telecommunications except 911; set a lower state TABOR revenue limit; and require voter approval of fees on vehicles and telecommunications, according to Bell.
Conroy said Proposition 101 will have the greatest effect on university and college funding.
“Colorado, compared to other states, is currently 47th in the nation for tax expenditures toward (higher education),” Conroy said. “Are we satisfied with that? Do we want to become less than that? Because that’s what this proposition means.
“We wouldn’t be 47th any more. We’d probably be dead last.”
Proponents say passage of the ballot measures shouldn’t affect school districts, because the state is required to compensate for cuts in schools’ tax revenue.
However, Grabowski takes issue with that assertion.
“According to what they say, the state is supposed to backfill any funding cuts, according to 60, 61 and 101,” he said. “How can they backfill that when they’re facing significant budget cuts themselves?”
Graboswki and Conroy cited last year’s $1.7 million cut from the district’s budget as evidence that the state can’t bear the burden of lost tax revenues.
And, as a result of last year’s cuts, the district’s programs and services are about as lean as possible.
“We have already trimmed the fat,” Conroy said of last year’s budget cycle, wherein the district lowered its contributions toward employee insurance premiums, and didn’t rehire many positions that were lost to typical attrition.
Hours were also reduced for many employees, and wage incentives were discontinued for veteran teachers.
If per pupil funding drops any more, Conroy said the next step would be to cut personnel, which results in larger class sizes.
“Research shows us that if kids are in larger classes, they’re not going to get the quality, one-on-one intervention instruction that they need in order to be successful,” Conroy said.
“We wouldn’t have the ability to provide even basic, adequate education.”