Last Minute Jockeying

 Uncategorized
Oct 262005
 
Authors: Vimal Patel

The tension is high and the stakes are higher. On Tuesday, Colorado voters will decide whether to give up $491 on average over five years so the state could spend an additional $3.7 billion on education, healthcare, road repair and other government services.

Groups on both sides have been unloading massive amounts of campaign firepower in a last minute push to sway voters.

Between the two sides, everything but the kitchen sink has been evoked to win the battle. Dilapidated roads, poorly educated youngsters, cash-strapped college students, sub-par hospitals, evocations of communism and appeals to freedom are just some of the avenues opponents and proponents of C and D have rolled out to win the undecided's vote.

Out-of-state anti-tax groups, such as Dick Armey's FreedomWorks and anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, have been conducting automated telephone campaigns in Colorado.

John Straayer, CSU political science professor, has received anti-referendum phone calls that link a lack of state funds to illegal immigration.

Signs supporting and opposing the measures also can be seen dotting the front lawns of homes throughout Colorado.

IN THE DETAILS

As the horse race winds down, many proponents of Referendums C and D have criticized opponents as not providing specifics about where budget cuts will come from.

"Opponents are like defense attorneys in a criminal trial," said Rich Jones, director of policy and research at the Bell Policy Center, a pro-C and D organization. "What they're trying to do is instill reasonable doubt."

He said anti-tax advocates roll out "a lot of innuendo, a lot of hot air, no facts."

Referendum C and D opponents interviewed by the Collegian didn't specify what programs to eliminate and which to cut if the measures fail, but did offer ideas to trim spending.

Douglas Bruce, TABOR's author, has said professors and administrators at educational institutions are overpaid. Although acknowledging lowering their salaries wouldn't offset the lack of revenue from C and D, he said it's illustrative of a culture of waste.

Some Fort Collins residents advocated eliminating "soft sciences" subjects such as politics, social studies and psychology in order to save money.

Also, Amendment 23, approved by voters in 2000, has been criticized by many opponents as preventing money from being funneled into higher education. The amendment mandates a funding increase every year for K-12 education.

Opponents of C and D say Amendment 23 is wasteful and a detriment to higher education. Some, like Republican State Representative Jim Welker, suggested placing higher education into Amendment 23 to protect it from possible cuts.

"If (Gov. Bill Owens) had spent half as much time opposing Amendment 23, Colorado wouldn't be forced [to make as drastic cuts to higher education]", said Chris Butler, an Americans for Tax Reform spokesman.

Welker also said Colorado should put the state's 8,000 prisoners to work, noting 10 percent of the state budget is spent on prisons, an increase from 3 percent 10 years ago.

ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION

In the last weeks of the epic debate over C and D, opponents have rolled out a controversial argument against the measures: illegal immigration.

Some, however, say it's hardly an argument.

Welker, and other C and D opponents, say the government has no right to ask taxpayers for more money until it can stem the flow of illegal immigrants, who Welker says cost Colorado between $100 million and $400 million annually.

Jones said no credible government studies have been done examining illegal immigration's fiscal impact on Colorado.

"With all due respect to Jim Welker, I think he's pulling those numbers out of the air," Jones said.

Straayer received a phone call that said a vote in favor of C and D would be tantamount to voting in favor of giving away taxpayer money to illegal immigrants.

"The illegal immigration (argument) is just a rouse," he said. "Welker and (state Rep. David) Schultheis are trying to stir things up."

Welker and Schultheis, along with Republican Bill Crane from Arvada, patrolled the Arizona border earlier this month with the Minutemen, a "border watch" group some liken to vigilantes.

A FISCAL CRISIS

Henry Sorbanet, Gov. Owens' budget director, wrote in a memo to the governor that the defeat of C would result in the state having to make $365 million in cuts.

The hardest hit sector will probably be education, which will have to take at least $120 million in cuts, Sobanet wrote. Student tuition has already increased 15 percent this year for CSU students, more than twice the national average.

Opponents of C and D often argue that state spending has increased every year since TABOR was enacted in 1992. Although true, the spending increases aren't enough to offset the increasing costs of living, Jones said.

For example, gasoline prices have skyrocketed, which greatly impacts the Department of Transportation, but the budget increase does not cover the increased price of gas, he said, adding that healthcare costs too are rising at a greater rate than inflation.

"The government and leaders in legislature and business have come to the conclusion that we're in a fiscal crisis," he said. "Just because the state budget has increased, doesn't mean the state is able to keep up with what it is the state is buying."

The state spending shortfall "is driven by more people, more caseloads and higher prices," he added.

The Medicaid caseload increased about 60 percent from 1994 to 2004, according to non-partisan state economists. Adult and youth corrections caseloads more than doubled in that same time period.

Sobanet has prepared a list of possible programs to eliminate and slash in the event of C and D's rejection.

The possible program eliminations include those for needy, disabled and mentally retarded adults, senior citizens, and victims of domestic violence.

But to opponents of C and D, it's precisely the fact that state legislators have to make serious decisions and trim government spending that makes TABOR and the ratchet so appealing. The government is forced to tighten its belt and live within its means, they argue.

FOR C AND D, THE LESS VOTES THE BETTER

The less people vote, the better the chances C and D have of being approved, Straayer said.

"If the voter turnout is high, it spells trouble for C and D," he said.

When more people vote, that means there are more occasional voters who are less likely to be informed about the issues at stake, he added.

"The more someone understands the predicament of our budget situation, the more likely (he or she is) to support C and D," Straayer said. "You have a more educated electorate with a 35 percent turnout than with a 70 percent turnout."

The CSU political science professor emphasized that the less someone's education level, the more likely he or she is to be swayed by the generalized rhetoric of TABOR author Bruce, Jon Caldara from the Independence Institute and other C and D opponents.

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