Referendum A: Revenue bonds for water projects
This proposal would, if passed, give any sitting governor of Colorado the ability to authorize $2 billion in bonds for unspecified water projects -- the equivalent of a blank check. There are many reasons to oppose this measure, one of which is that Colorado Springs has already indicated it would not seek funding via this mechanism -- yet local taxpayers could still be on the hook if another municipality should default.
It's important to consider another likely result if this measure should pass. Historically in Colorado, water has meant but one thing: war.
For decades, the interests on both sides of the Continental Divide have battled over proposed water projects, with the Western Slope (where the water is) often accusing the Front Range of lawn-watering gluttony at the expense of agriculture. We can think of no better example than the Homestake II water debacle of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Colorado Springs and Aurora tried to force Eagle County into allowing a reservoir built in the designated wilderness area southeast of Vail. The cities tried to take the battle all the way to the Supreme Court, and ultimately lost, making plenty of Western Slope enemies along the way and costing Colorado Springs taxpayers more than $4 million in legal fees. Since then, coalitions have been formed across the Divide to try to tackle water projects in a mutually respectful -- rather than litigious -- way. Referendum A would doubtless take us back to the warring days of the past -- pitting special interests against one another and benefiting no one but lawyers.
Rather than asking voters to sign a blank check, the governor and the Legislature should come up with a list of specific water projects for voter consideration.
Amendment 32: Freezing the taxable value of residential property
This proposal would increase the taxable portion of residential property, and freeze it at 8 percent. Under current Colorado law, the Gallagher Amendment sets a formula for commercial and residential property taxes, and when the value of all residential property rises faster than the value of commercial and other property, residential assessment rates must decrease. Over the past 16 years, the residential assessment rate has dropped from 21 percent to its current 7.96 percent. Each decline forces the state to pay a larger share of school funding, giving the state less flexibility in paying for other services like roads and other infrastructure.
Amendment 33: Video Lottery Terminal gambling
This measure would give a British company called Wembley a near monopoly to bring Video Lottery Terminal gambling to five urban racetracks in Colorado. Wembley's chief officers were recently indicted for trying to bribe politicians in Rhode Island -- the only state in the country with approved Video Lottery Terminal gambling.
Even if the Wembley scandal weren't occurring, we would still oppose bringing gambling to urban Colorado, potentially decimating the economies of Cripple Creek, Central City and Black Hawk. Proponents of the measure claim it would bring jobs and tourists to the state, but at what social cost? How much more crime? How many more victims of gambling addiction?
The Video Lottery Terminals themselves have been the source of controversy -- they look like slot machines but because of the speed in which players drop their money and get hooked, they have been likened to the crack cocaine of gambling.
Just say no.
County 1A: Tax to benefit The Resource Exchange
Ordinarily a "yes" endorsement to raise money for much-needed services to people with mental retardation and those with developmental disabilities would be a slam-dunk for us. This proposal would authorize an increase in the mill levy to benefit The Resource Exchange, which provides services to an estimated 2,710 people in El Paso, Teller and Park counties, and has a waiting list of 1,100.
However, we cannot in good conscience endorse this measure, and our reasons are twofold. First, the bulk of the campaign's money -- $170,000 -- has come from The Resource Exchange itself, with additional contributions of $20,000 from Goodwill and $5,000 from Cheyenne Villages, Inc. , both of which receive funding from The Resource Exchange. Hefty contributions from nonprofit corporations to a political cause where the organizations themselves are the beneficiaries are unseemly at best. These organizations should use their donated funds to provide services to the needy, not for political campaigns.
Worse, in their effort to convince voters to approve this, proponents have engaged in downright sleazy campaign tactics. Using the beneficiaries of The Resource Exchange's programs as pawns, pro-1A campaign adviser Bob Gardner actually filed arguments against the measure for anonymous use in the voter's guides that are distributed to every voter in El Paso County. As detailed in Cara DeGette's Public Eye column this week (see page 17), Gardner's nasty, and inaccurate, claims about disabled people were presumably made in an attempt to make his opponents look bad.
With few people speaking up against the proposal, Gardner's tactic was not only offensive but also unnecessary. He should be ashamed for stooping so low, and the campaign should at the very least publicly denounce his scheme -- which they so far have refused to do. Voters should not have to pinch their noses at the stench of dirty politics while supporting such a worthwhile organization and the members of our community who need our help.
County 1B: De-TABOR-ing county taxes
Currently the county administers numerous programs that are paid for by the state government, including road and bridge grants and Sheriff's Office and Department of Health and Human Services programs. However, because of unintended consequences from the 1992 Taxpayer Bill of Rights amendment, the county ends up having to factor in the TABOR funds it receives from the state -- which have already been counted under TABOR, essentially double-TABOR-ing the tax money.
Many other counties in Colorado -- 44 of them permanently -- have closed TABOR loopholes. Voters here have resisted, to our own detriment. In the 2001-2002 tax year, for example, the county was forced to remove $8.8 million in legitimately collected revenues from the general fund to pay for the double-TABOR effect. We could have used that money to repair our crumbling infrastructure.
Voters, including the most fiscally conservative, should embrace this simple housekeeping measure.
Question 5A: The Pikes Peak Library District
This month the Pikes Peak Library District was nationally ranked the eighth best (out of 95 library districts) in the country in its size category by Hennan's American Public Library Ratings. As library director Jose Aponte notes, people check out more materials from the East Library branch every month than they do from the main branch of the Boston Public Library, a facility 13 times the size. Yet the library district operates with lower per capita spending than most. This ballot request would approve bonds that would build six desperately needed new libraries in fast-growing Fountain, Falcon, the Briargate-Gleneagle area, eastern El Paso County, east along the Powers corridor and southwest near Star Ranch. In addition, the bonds would be used to renovate and expand 10 existing libraries throughout the county. The library district -- which has done much to earn our trust and respect -- deserves support. And all people across El Paso County deserve to have access to local branch libraries.
School District 11 Board of Education
This is a critical year for the city's largest school district. Four of seven seats are up for grabs, and due to term limits only two incumbents are eligible for re-election. We believe the following candidates are best qualified to lead the district forward:
A retired Navy officer who holds a Master of Science degree in secondary education, Wendy Chiado has volunteered in several school and district positions and committees for the past eight years. She is enthusiastic, sensible and knowledgeable. Pointing out that only 22 percent of the people who live within the boundaries in the district actually have kids in schools, Chiado believes D-11 must do a better job on community relations and outreach. Rather than engaging in partisan bickering over education ideology, Chiado says she prefers a united approach to improving increased student achievement. She deserves your vote.
Colorado Springs' Latino community has been trying to convince Gonzalez to run for 10 years, and he has finally agreed. The retired 32-year Qwest employee who has served on the boards of the Latino Alliance and the Pikes Peak Educational Foundation has met with numerous groups and has carefully studied the complex issues facing D-11. During the campaign he has focused on high drop-out rates and low test scores, especially for students of color. With a 20 percent Hispanic enrollment in D-11, Gonzalez will be an important advocate for this constituency as well as the overall district.
This incumbent has done a good job communicating with her constituency, and has proven to be a strong, but fair, voice on the school board. Her longtime volunteer work in D-11 -- including on the district's Accountability Advisory Committee -- places her in an excellent position of understanding the challenges the district is facing, including the effects of legislatively mandated vouchers. Rand's experience, along with her commitment to accountability and a stated desire to focus on improving graduation rates and recruiting and retaining a highly skilled workforce, makes her a superb candidate. She has earned your vote.
As a retired 27-year District 11 elementary school special ed teacher and literacy professional, Shakes is passionate, articulate and experienced in education -- certainly important qualifications for someone who is running for the school board. Shakes believes that the district has grown too large for its current centrally administered cookie-cutter approach and advocates a stronger site-based management model.
Her commitment to accountability and improving community outreach and her strong belief that public education can and should be improved, is encouraging.
Mayor of Fountain: Ken Barela
For six years, Ken Barela has led the city of Fountain from a sleepy Colorado Springs bedroom community to a city with a distinct personality. Under his leadership, a new city hall has been completed, fire and police services are in terrific shape and the business climate is a healthy one. Barela has also championed a new public library and has helped foster a sense of community spirit and pride. He deserves a final two-year term to help continue Fountain's rise as "The Millennium City."
Manitou Springs 2A: Downtown improvements
This proposal would increase the sales tax in Manitou Springs by 0.3 percent -- the equivalent of just three cents on a $10 purchase -- with the bulk of it paid by tourists. The funds would be used to build creekside trails, enhance pedestrian safety and access, improve and widen cracked and crumbling sidewalks (an improvement that would give restaurants more space for outdoor dining), bury unsightly overhead power lines and upgrade landscaping, benches, bike racks and streetlights. In recent years, Manitou Springs has experienced a decrease in tourism. The money raised for these projects would give the city a much-needed facelift.
School District 14: Manitou Springs Board of Education
Appointed to the D-14 school board six months ago to fill a vacancy, Barnes has worked energetically to understand the district's needs. As director of information technology for Centura Health, Barnes has a hands-on understanding of the cyber challenges both the district and students will face in the 21st century. She deserves a full term on the board.
A passionate believer in the public school mission to educate and excite all students, Farmer's focus is on students' real academic and social needs -- and not on just teaching to the limited content of the state-mandated CSAP multiple-choice tests or improving the district's ratings given by the devilishly named federal "No Child Left Behind Act." Farmer is a compassionate advocate for the administration, teachers, parents and students.
An active volunteer in Manitou Springs schools, Elizabeth Stanbro has impressive credentials, including teaching art at the university level as well as having been an instructor for a decade at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and has been an active volunteer for several local arts groups. She will work to ensure that the district continues to balance students' focus on core academic subjects with an exploration of the arts and culture.
This year, you must bring your identification to the polls. You will not be able to vote without your identification.
Registered voters in El Paso County can cast early votes through Friday, Oct. 31. You can vote at the following three locations:
200 S. Cascade Ave.
8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Chapel Hills Mall
(north side, between JC Penney and Mervyn's)
7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Widefield Motor Vehicle Office
115 Fontaine Blvd., Widefield
7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 28 is the last day voters can apply for an absentee ballot by mail.
Nov. 4 is Election Day. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
For more information, and to find out where your polling place is, contact the El Paso County Elections Department at 575-VOTE or