by Rick Langenberg
Local voters affirm state views regarding taxes and marijuana
Teller County voters followed state trends in voicing strong opposition to a nearly $1 billion proposed tax increase for public schools. And surprisingly, Teller, an area known as one of the strongest anti-tax areas in the state, said “yes” to a proposed 25 percent tax on recreational marijuana products, consisting of excise and sales levies. Both the local public school and marijuana votes were fairly similar to the state results.
Meanwhile, in Manitou Springs, voters strongly approved a small local tax hike for marijuana sales, a verdict that many view as setting the stage for a possible approval of recreational pot retail shops in the popular tourist town. Manitou Springs could become one of the few communities in the Pikes Peak region that opens the door for recreational marijuana outlets. However, a petition effort has started that would ban these outlets permanently in Manitou Springs. These are some of the conclusions of the Nov. 5 election that generated a 45 percent participation rate in Teller County, which is fairly strong for an off-year election. El Paso County also had a strong turnout for the election, with more than 138,000 people casting ballots.
The Nov. 5 vote was highlighted by another devastating defeat for proponents of generating more money for public schools through a state-wide tax increase. Supporters of Amendment 66 organized an impressive campaign, equipped with a nearly $10 million war chest for television commercials and other pro-Amendment 66 promotions, and virtually had no formal opposition. The Amendment 66 effort also was heavily backed by Governor John Hickenlooper.
But once again, funding public education through broad tax hike, proved to be a surmountable obstacle. Voters in Teller County squashed Amendment 66 by a 74 to 26 percent margin. On the state level, the measure was defeated by a 66 percent margin. This proposition was heavily opposed by county leaders, who criticized this as a bad solution. However, with this defeat, more pressure will be applied on local school districts for generating additional funds to make up for depleting revenues.
But when it comes to assessing taxes on the sales of recreational marijuana products, aimed at footing the bill for school construction and costs in regulating the new industry, Teller voters said “yes” by a sweeping 4,639 to 3,098 margin. Teller County, however, is one of many areas in the Pikes Peak region that has already decided to remain off-limits for recreational marijuana businesses. As a result, the county won’t be eligible to receive any additional revenue from these taxes.
In a related issue, Manitou Springs voters strongly approved its own additional 5 percent local sales tax on marijuana products. Manitou Springs leaders still haven’t decided on whether they will allow these types of businesses in the community, or if they should just impose a limit on a certain number of cannabis outlets. But leaders want to prepare for the possible advent of marijuana outlets on a limited scale and find a way to pay for additional impacts if these cannabis shops are approved. Manitou Springs voters heavily supported the original pro-marijuana amendment last year, but the subject of opening its doors to recreational pot shops has sparked much debate.
Many political observers are viewing Tuesday’s result as a victory for proponents of having marijuana shops in Manitou. But Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder, who was elected to another term, has cautioned not to make too much out of this pro-marijuana tax sentiment. To make matters more complicated, a new group, No Retail Marijuana Shops in Manitou, has been formed. They hope to put an issue on the ballot next year that would ban these types of businesses permanently. The Manitou Springs Council is expected to revisit the marijuana issue shortly and make a decision by the end of the year.
In other key local votes, residents of the Cripple Creek/Victor RE-1 School District strongly favored incumbent Dennis Jones and challenger Tana Rice in two contested board seats for District A and District E respectively. Jones beat challenger Rich Warrino by a 529 to 324 margin, while Rice prevailed against Ravage, an incumbent, by a 515 to 330 final tally. The other two school board seat candidates, Tim Braun and Don Daniel, didn’t face any opposition.
The Nov. 5 election was uneventful on the local municipal and school side, with the cities of Cripple Creek and Victor cancelling their elections.