Updated Nov. 5, 7:15 a.m. – Colorado voters continued their anti-gambling tradition Tuesday and defeated Amendment 68, the constitutional amendment that would have expanded casino gambling and devoted some of the revenues to K-12 education.
But voters statewide approved Proposition 104, a measure that will require contract negotiations between school districts and employee unions to be held in public.
Voters delivered a mixed verdict on proposed district tax increases, approving slightly over half of the more than 40 measures on the ballot. The Colorado School Finance Project released this list early Wednesday morning.
Of nine proposed tax increases in five Adams County districts, none passed.
But Boulder voters resoundingly approved a record $576.4 million bond for construction, while in Falcon, a construction bond failed but an override for operating expenses passed.
In Denver, voters approved an increase in the Denver Preschool Program sales tax, from .12 to .15 percent, and an extension of the tax until 2026. (Get background on the program and the tax here.)
Advocates of the DPP say it’s helped ensure school readiness, boost third-grade test scores and improve preschool quality, while skeptics said providing subsidies should be the state’s role, not the city’s, and that the program’s universal approach means that tax-payers are subsidizing preschool for families who don’t truly need the help.
It was a record year for local tax proposals. Some two dozen districts proposed a total of about $1.5 billion in bond issues and tax overrides for operating expenses just a year after voters statewide rejected a $1 billion state income tax increase for K-12 funding.
Here are the major proposals:
- Adams 12-Five Star – $220 million bond, $15 million override – Both fail
- Boulder – $576.4 million bond – Passes
- Brighton – $148 million bond – Fails
- Commerce City – $95.7 million bond, $4.9 million override – Both fail
- Mapleton – $67 million bond, $2.5 million override – Both fail
- Westminster – $30 million bond, $2.5 million override – Both fail
- Falcon – $107.4 million bond, $7.5 million override – Falcon override passes and bond fails
Districts were hoping for a change in voters’ attitude toward local school taxes—toward which they have often been skeptical—this year. District tax proposals received reasonable support in 2010, but 2011 was the worst year in memory for bonds and overrides. Voters were very supportive in 2012 but returned to their skeptical ways in 2013. Of course, voters rejected statewide proposals to increases taxes for schools in 2011 and 2013.
The gambling proposal would have allowed opening of a full casino at the Arapahoe Park horse track south of Aurora, with one casino each allowed in Pueblo and Mesa counties at later dates, if certain conditions were met. The initiative would have devoted 34 percent of a casino’s adjusted gross casino proceeds to a new K-12 Education Fund, which would have been distributed to districts on a per-student basis. Legislative analysts estimated $114 million in K-12 revenue in 2016-17. (See our archive for more information.)
The proposal drew virtually no support from education groups. Since casino gambling was approved in 1991, Colorado voters have rejected every proposal to expand gaming beyond the three historic mining towns of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek.
Most voters were skeptical of the proposal. “Number one, I’m not for gambling,” said Brittany Moore, of Golden. “Number two, I don’t trust that the money is going to go to the school system like they say it will. I’m sure there is some loophole.”
“I don’t think we need any more opportunities for the working man to throw away his money,” said Phillip Doe, of Jefferson County.
Other voters supported the change. “If they’re going to gamble, it may as well go to schools,” said Jeff Tomlinson, of Denver.
“Every little bit that goes to education helps,” said Christine Davis, also of Denver. “Public schools need more funding.”
More than $30 million—most of it on TV ads—was spent by the two campaigns, the pro side funded by Arapahoe Park’s owner, a Rhode Island casino firm, and the opposition bankrolled by the gaming corporations that own the mountain-town casinos.
“A vigorous campaign was waged on both sides; now Colorado voters have spoken and with their votes have said that they prefer the status quo,” said Monica McCafferty, a spokeswoman for Coloradans for Better Schools, which supported Amendment 68, in a press release.
“Horse racing will continue at Arapahoe Park and the company will continue to be a good neighbor as it always has been,” she wrote. “The company will continue to work with the education community in Colorado in an effort to find ways to improve education in the state.”
“Trying to write special rules didn’t pass muster with voters tonight and it won’t in the future,” said Senate Minorit Leader Bill Cadman, who led a campaign against the amendment, in a statement on Tuesday. “If you want to have casinos in Colorado, then you need to do it in the three towns Colorado voters have set aside for you.”
Proposition 104, drafted and backed by the Independence Institute, requires collective bargaining sessions between school district and employee unions be held in public, as well as school board strategy sessions. It also would require that school board strategy sessions be open.
“The battle to bring sunshine into the smoky back rooms where school districts and teachers union scheme to decide how our kids are to be taught is coming to an end,” said Jon Caldara, of the Independence Institute, in an email to supporters.
“I agree [negotiations] should be public,” said voter Dave Giroir, a former member of an electricians union from Lakewood. “It would create confidence in the process.”
“I was glad that was on the ballot,” said Davis, a resident of the Five Points neighborhood in Denver. “It’s a public issue.”
Voter Tomlinson said he voted against. “I don’t think that should be public. It’s the administrators’ job.”
The measure was opposed by most education interest groups, who warned it is vague enough to affect conversations beyond formal meetings and might require clarification by the courts. (Learn more about the measure here.)
“Coloradans have always valued transparency in their government, so it’s no surprise that they support open school board negotiations too,” said Ranelle Lang, a spokesperson for Local Schools, Local Choices, which opposed the measure. “But this measure’s vague wording will leave many school districts unclear on what will now be expected of them. At a time when school districts across the state are struggling to educate rapidly-growing populations of school-age children in Colorado, this measure could take money out of the classroom to pay for the legal counsel needed to help navigate and comply with this new mandate.”