This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Friday, September 3, 2010

September 2, 2010 - Amendment 60 kills jobs

09/02/2010 - amendment 60 kills jobs

Maybe you've heard this one. After a long and wicked life, Joe dies. He finds himself standing not at the pearly gates of heaven, but at the threshold of the underworld.

"Welcome to eternity!" says the devil. "And now, you have a choice on how to spend it."

He opens door number one. Three men are standing on their heads on a grassy lawn.

"What's behind door number two?" asks Joe. Three men are standing on their heads on concrete.

"Door number three?" asks Joe.

Three men stand up to their knees in human excrement. But they're drinking coffee. Joe thinks it through for a while, figures he would probably get used to the smell eventually, and at least he won't be thirsty.

"Door number 3," he decides.

As the door locks behind him, a voice comes over the loudspeaker. "Break's over. Back on your heads!"

Which leads me to this fall's ballot questions. Two of them are amendments to the state constitution (60 and 61). One of them is a proposition (101), which means it can be amended by the legislature.

All of them have a single purpose: to lower taxes.

Despite that simple summary, all of the measures are surprisingly complex. For a good, even-handed discussion of them, including arguments for and against, I highly recommend the Ballotpedia site (Google "ballotpedia colorado 2010").

This week, I'll focus primarily on Amendment 60. It has many provisions. I'll highlight just a few important ones:

* First, it overturns all local elections since 1992 that exempted local governments from Doug Bruce's TABOR restrictions. Those restrictions are restored.

* Second, any property tax increases that the voters approved during that time will be restated to the dollar amount specified in the original ballot question. So let's say the voters approved a mill levy increase of 2 mils in 1992. Back then, it generated $200,000 a year. But property values rose over the past 18 years. Let's say that last year, 2 mils equaled $1,000,000. Under Amendment 60, it goes back to $200,000.

* Third, it mandates the phased-in reduction of school property taxes by half, and requires the state to pick it up instead. The Colorado Legislative Council analysis says that this would require 99% of all state funding to go to local schools. It's not clear how it would pay for other mandated services.

As part of the library's budgeting process, we've tried to get a handle on just what these amendments, if approved by the state's voters (even if rejected by Douglas County), would mean for us.

I suspect that because these changes are so sweeping, they would likely be tied up in court for years to unravel all the implications. But the best analysis I can offer of the consequences of Amendment 60, for the library, is this:

* the first two provisions mentioned above would likely reduce our $21 million annual budget by over $11 million. That's a 52% cut.

* the library spends the bulk of its money on people. Currently, we employ 331 people to operate 7 libraries, most of them 7 days a week.

* to balance our budget, I would expect to lay off at least 172 people. Not because business is down, by the way. Libraries are busier than ever.

* with half as many people, it seems inevitable that all of our libraries would reduce their days and hours of operation. It seems likely that at least some of our libraries - the ones we rent rather than own - may close altogether.

People often say to government workers, "I pay your salary!" And if they're taxpayers, that's true. But they forget that we pay their salaries, too. Public employees go to the dentist, pay for kid's music lessons, buy car insurance, shop at the local grocery store, eat at local restaurants, pay for home repairs, and whittle away at their mortgages. Unless they don't have jobs.

In our economy, we're all connected. Eliminating an estimated 80,000 jobs statewide isn't likely to put more money in your pocket if fewer people can buy whatever you sell.

More about Amendment 61 and Proposition 101 next week. But for now, unlike old Joe, you might want to ask a few questions before your choose your future.

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