Colorado State Archives
Executive Orders from the Administration of Governor Bill Owens 1999-2005
April 14, 2005
The Honorable Colorado Senate
Sixty-Fifth General Assembly
First Regular Session
Denver, CO 80203
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am returning to you Senate Bill 174, "Concerning An Exemption From The Statutory Limitation On The Total Sales And Use Tax That May Be Imposed For A County Tax To Fund County-Owned Open Space And Park Land.” I vetoed this bill as of 2:55 p.m. today and this letter sets forth my reasons for doing so.
The preservation of open space has been a priority for my administration, and is central to the maintenance of Colorado’s quality of life. This legislation should have earned my signature. However, because it is drafted with excessively broad definitions, it lacks essential protections for county taxpayers.
Senate Bill 174 would give county governments the authority to ask voters for up to a 50 percent tax increase to “fund county-owned open space and park land.” However, such funding would not in face be limited solely to acquisition. Funds from higher taxes could be used for “conservation purposes or funding the long-term maintenance of such lands.”
The county elections contemplated in this legislation would be a county budget director’s dream: to have fungible funds flow in from up to a 50 percent tax increase. For example, the higher taxes could be used to backfill ongoing parks operations and thus free up funds for other operating purposes completely unrelated to open space. That is not what I believe voters would be told in considering this tax increase.
One could envision colorful brochures touting the virtues of expanding county open space. Yet, from the language of this bill, there is no guarantee that the county would preserve even one additional acre.
A careful reading of Senate Bill 174 shows that county voters could end up voting for higher sales taxes that, instead of preserving pristine and scenic open space, could end up paying for lawn mowers, athletic equipment and shovels. This flexibility is excessive, unnecessary and is the fatal flaw in this bill.
Beyond the significant problems with the language of this bill, it is not at all clear that the available sales tax authority is insufficient for most counties. Some of Colorado’s most populous counties – including Arapahoe, Boulder, Jefferson and Larimer – are still operating under the current sales tax cap.
Moreover, the bill does not provide for funding of an essential preservation tool: temporary conservation easements. The tool allows ecologists to meet the ever-changing needs of our environment. Without this added flexibility, we limit meaningful conservation.
It is an essential tenet of government in Colorado that we afford our voters the opportunity to vote on such dedicated tax increases. However, the key is to ensure that voters have adequate and candid information about how the new dollars flowing into government coffers would be used. Senate Bill 174 has not met this simple and essential test. Accordingly, I have vetoed this bill.
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