This was a tough year to ask voters for a tax increase. Unemployment remains high, the stock market is skittish and the overall economy is, at best, sluggish. That was clear locally and statewide well before the election, and voters validated the polling by soundly rejecting a statewide tax hike for schools and a local one for a fire district. (At this writing the Ignacio school bond issue remains undecided.)
That outcome was not everyones first choice. But neither was it irrational or born of ignorance. And concluding that it was is disrespectful to democracy and insulting to the voters.
The Herald supported Proposition 103, the statewide ballot measure to raise sales and income taxes to boost funding for education. The voters thought otherwise and turned it down by a wide margin both statewide and in La Plata County.
So be it. Deciding such questions is why we have elections.
Proposition 103 had an uphill fight from the start. It faced strong resistance from those opposed to any tax increase, weak support from others who thought it did not go far enough and from the economic climate.
In defeat, the measures chief backer, state Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, called for a renewed focus on the needs of the states children. Recognizing school funding is still critical, Heath said he hopes that we all come together to solve the problems because they arent going to go away, and weve got to do this for the kids.
On the local level, however, things were not so genteel. Responding to the voters rejection of a districtwide mill levy to fund the Durango Fire Protection District, Chief Dan Noonan issued a statement in which he said, I believe this election was lost in part due to misinformation and personal agendas of a select few.
Fifty-seven percent is a majority, not a select few. Beyond that, though, why does a difference of opinion have to be based on misinformation?
The voters understand a tax increase when they see one and this proposal would have raised taxes. The increase would have fallen directly on city residents and, to a lesser extent, on residents of the old Animas district. But thanks to the Gallagher amendment, which, in effect, mandates higher taxes on commercial property than residential property, it also would have affected anyone who shops or does business in Durango.
The voters rejected Ballot Issue 4A not because they did not get it, but because they did not want it. To disagree with that choice is fair; to suggest it means the voters are stupid is not.
Area voters also approved two other ballot issues, neither or which involved tax increases.
In passing Ballot Issue 2A, city of Durango voters allowed the city to purchase water from Lake Nighthorse. With that, they correctly recognized the value of that cushion for the citys water supply. It may never be needed, but it could be critical. And they wisely saw that the question before them was not a referendum on the wisdom of building the Animas-La Plata Project in the first place.
By approving Ballot Issue 5A voters in the La Plata-Archuleta Water District allowed the proposed rural water system to go forward by increasing the districts debt. A great many hurdles remain before that project can be completed, and the wisdom of pursuing that goal, of course, can be debated.
But again, that is why we have elections. We all get to weigh in, but in the end, it is the voters who decide.