As we all fill out our ballots this year in Colorado, there is a long list of ballot measures to consider, all of which have major implications for our state’s future. One bad measure in particular is generating a lot of confusion: Proposition 117.
If you’ve read the language of Proposition 117 three times and are still struggling to understand what exactly it does, you’re not alone. Because the language is so poorly written, the details of how it would work are ambiguous — opening the door to costly litigation and economic uncertainty that couldn’t come at a worse time while reducing governmental accountability.
What is clear is that Proposition 117 would be deeply harmful to Colorado’s economic recovery. Its intention is to help corporate special interests and users of services avoid paying their fair share and instead pile additional economic burdens and taxes onto the people of Colorado. I strongly encourage Coloradans to vote No.
Proposition 117 would mandate a vote to create any new enterprise fund that collects revenues of more than $100 million over the first five years. Enterprise funds were created as part of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) in 1992. Doug Bruce recognized that some state services are only used by a few people or businesses and the rest of us shouldn’t have to pay for those services. We have Enterprise funds in Colorado to help run programs like our state parks and other important services. They are essentially business units of government that are more accountable to their customers and the market than they would be if funded through general tax revenue.
Enterprise funds increase government accountability, ensure that money is used for a specific purpose rather than whatever politicians want, and help increase efficiency. While government is not exactly the same as a business, the rigors and pressures of the market works extremely well for several quasi-government functions like parks, oil and gas safety, and even roads.
And economically, to the maximum extent possible, real costs should be born in each area rather than cross-subsidized across the economy with politicians choosing winners and losers based on political power rather than market forces.
One example of an existing enterprise is the Petroleum Storage Tank Fund, which assesses fees on companies and individuals that own these tanks. I personally don’t own a petroleum storage tank; I’m guessing most of you reading this don’t either. Why should taxpayers as a whole be on the hook when there can be a simple and accountable fee that only goes towards that purpose? The people and businesses who have the tanks can then cover economic externalities like the cost of environmental clean-up rather than forcing them on the rest of us.
An important aspect of enterprise funds is the use of fees, instead of taxes. We all pay taxes for the general funding of schools, health care, and fire protection which benefit everyone. Specific fees are only a cost to an individual or company in exchange for a good or service. It’s only fair that petroleum storage tank operators pay the costs created by their operations in the form of a fee, rather than leaving the rest of us to pay these costs through our taxes. If there is any ambiguity on the usage of fees or accountability around enterprises, I would be glad to work with Republicans and Democrats in the legislature to clarify the issue.
But if Proposition 117 passes, the corporations and customers who should be responsible for enterprise fees will instead try to use the ballot box to force higher taxes on the rest of us. The same corporate special interests who are funding Proposition 117 would have free rein to pour millions of dollars in dark money into our elections to stop any effort to pass new enterprise fees and instead force tax increases on everyone.
What does that mean exactly? It means that even if a fee is for a service most of us are not using, we will have to battle it out on the ballot with corporate special interests — and if we lose, every taxpayer in Colorado will end up on the hook to pay for things that most of us are not using. So instead of going to priorities like schools and healthcare, more of your tax dollars would go to paying for obscure costs that benefit only a handful of customers or big corporations.
At a time when so many Coloradans are struggling under the burden of a pandemic, an economic crisis, and devastating wildfires, the last thing we need right now is pressure to pay more in taxes for handouts to corporate special interests and customers of specific services. Proposition 117 doesn’t solve any of our problems. It just makes them worse. Please join me in voting No.
Jared Polis is the governor of Colorado.