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A roundup of what’s going down in November
Mail-in ballots include important tax-related issue for Basalt
Photos by Jane Bachrach Election Day is Nov. 5 and questions on both the Pitkin County and Eagle Country ballots address tax issues that require voter approval. Ballots were mailed out this week and should be in local boxes by Oct. 18.

Though Election Day 2019, which is coming up on Nov. 5, isn’t particularly exciting on the national level, there are some interesting ballot measures that Mid-Valley voters will get to consider, including one that could have a lasting impact on the town of Basalt for years to come.

Ballots were mailed out by Eagle and Pitkin counties earlier this week. Everyone is expected to have theirs by Friday, Oct. 18, and while the state and town ballot measures are the same on each, Basalt residents from Pitkin and Eagle will get to vote on slightly different county-wide issues.

Here’s a rundown of what Basalt voters can expect to see on their mail-in (or drop-off) ballots.

Town of Basalt Ballot 

Issue 3A – Set Basalt General Operating Mill Levy

This is the big one for Basalt citizens, and it’s important to understand the true meaning of the issue, as it isn’t exactly clear from the way it’s worded on the ballot.

Due to Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), an amendment to the state constitution approved in 1992, the official language of 3A states, in part: “Shall Town of Basalt taxes be increased by not more than $740,000 in tax collection year 2020 and by whatever additional amounts are generated annually thereafter by increasing the general operating mill levy from 2.562 mills to not more than 5.957 mills (which is the amount levied last year) for general municipal purposes of the town?”

In reality, 3A is not a tax increase. It just has to be described as such to satisfy the requirements of TABOR. The town’s 2019 mill levy rate for property taxes is 5.957 mills (essentially $5.96 for each $1,000 of a property’s assessed value). However, that rate is in violation of another TABOR stipulation that says a town can lower a mill levy rate without asking but must let citizens vote on any tax rate increases.

Basalt inadvertently ran afoul of that law a number of times since 2010, when its levy rate reached a low of 2.56 mills, by raising taxes without voter approval. Because of TABOR, legally, the town’s rate should still be 2.56, which is the number it will revert to if 3A doesn’t pass. If it passes, the rate will be set at 5.957 mills, meaning taxes will stay the same as they are now. Any future rates could be adjusted to a number less than or equal to 5.957 mills but couldn’t go higher than that without voter approval.

The $740,000 represents how much less property tax revenue the town would take in next year should the rate drop to 2.56 mills. Should that happen, the shortcoming could – and likely will – lead to reductions in town services.

Pitkin County Ballot Issue 1A – A Dedicated Sales Tax on All Cigarettes, Tobacco and Nicotine Products

This issue’s title describes exactly what Pitkin County residents will get to vote on. If 1A passes, the county will impose new taxes on, as it says, “all cigarettes, tobacco and nicotine products.”

The tax would start at $3.20 per each pack of 20 cigarettes in 2020. This would be increased by 10 cents a year until the tax reaches $4 per pack. Other tobacco and nicotine products would be taxed at a rate of 40 percent starting next year.

Should it pass, it’s estimated the tax will generate $700,000 in its first year. This money would be used for “tax collection, enforcement, public health programs, such as tobacco and substance abuse prevention, and mental health programs.” It will also bring Pitkin County in line with many other municipalities around the state that have already imposed their own tobacco taxes.

The revenue would be a welcome addition to the county’s bottom line, but county officials will be the first to admit that the real aim of the tax is to provide a disincentive for people to use tobacco and nicotine products. Thus, the $700,000 would, hopefully, decrease over time as fewer people use tobacco. 

Eagle County Ballot Issue 1A – Funding to Support Public Health Programs and Education through the Taxation of Tobacco and Nicotine Products

Despite its somewhat long-winded title, this Eagle County issue is very similar to the one being put forth to Pitkin County residents. The main difference between the two is that the Eagle County tax would start at $4 per pack of cigarettes and 40 percent on other tobacco and nicotine products in 2020, without the cigarette tax being phased in over a period of years.

Another difference is that, if it passes, the Eagle County tax, as worded, is estimated to bring in $4.5 million in 2020. This is partly a function of Eagle County having a larger population than Pitkin County (54,993 vs. 17,950, according to 2017 estimates), but it’s also affected by TABOR requirements.

In truth, it’s unlikely the tax would actually generate that much money, but Eagle County is deliberately setting the number high so that if the tax brings in that much, the county will get to keep it. Under TABOR, if, for example, the county estimated the tax would generate $3 million, and it generated $4 million, the county would have to refund the extra $1 million or let citizens vote on letting the county keep it.

The Eagle County ballot issue is also a little more upfront about how the tax revenues would be spent, stating in the ballot language that the money would be used for “reducing teen vaping through education;” “local enforcement preventing the sale of vaping products, e-cigarettes and tobacco products to underage persons;” and “providing services that protect and improve public health, such as substance abuse and other services.”

State Proposition CC

This is another ballot measure that aims to get around TABOR requirements. Under current law, there is a limit to the amount of money the state government can collect and spend or save each year. In 2019, that limit is roughly $15 billion. Any money collected over the state revenue limit, by law, must be refunded to taxpayers.

If Proposition CC passes, the state would be allowed to keep all the money it collects. The money would be specifically earmarked to “better fund public schools, higher education and roads, bridges and transit.” If CC fails, the state will have to continue refunding any money it collects over the revenue limit each year.

The ballot language for CC also includes wording calling for “an annual independent audit to show how the retained revenues are spent,” and it makes clear that the proposition would not raise taxes, although it would have the effect of putting more tax revenue (an estimated $310 million in the 2019-20 budget year and $342 million in 2020-21) into the state’s coffers.

State Proposition DD

Expected to generate $29 million annually if it passes, Proposition DD would legalize sports betting in Colorado through licensed casinos and then tax sports betting at a rate of 10 percent of net proceeds. The money would be used “to fund state water projects and commitments and to pay for the regulation of sports betting.”

Should DD fail, sports betting would continue to be illegal in Colorado. The U.S. Supreme Court lifted the federal ban on sports betting in May 2018, and 42 states, including Colorado, could have legalized sports betting in the near future. Eleven states already do, seven have sports betting laws that will take effect soon, and another 24 have legislation pending voter approval.

All ballots must be received by the counties’ election offices by 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Ballots can be mailed in or dropped off at the counties’ clerk and recorder’s offices in Aspen, Eagle or Avon during regular business hours, or they can be dropped off at the ballot boxes located outside Basalt Town Hall and the Eagle County Community Center building near Crown Mountain Park. Ballot boxes will be open 24 hours a day until Nov. 5, and the clerk and recorder’s offices will be open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. on Nov. 5.