DENVER — Businessmen gather at an empty Denver Broncos stadium, with an ominous warning: The more than 70,000 vacant seats around them represent the number of state jobs that would be lost if three tax-slashing and debt-cutting measures are approved in next month's election.
While many states are wrestling with billion-dollar budget deficits, Colorado voters are being asked to adopt ballot initiatives that would ban borrowing for public works, cut the income tax and slash local property taxes.
The net effect, once fully implemented, would cost the state $2.1 billion in revenue annually and still require an additional $1.6 billion in spending on public education, according to an analysis by the independent Colorado Legislative Council.
Advantages to taxpayers: $1,360 in annual savings for someone who earns $55,000 and has a $295,000 home.
Opponents say the math doesn't work, that the proposals could cripple government and devastate the state economy.
Even a tea party candidate isn't supporting all the initiatives, and a coalition of business leaders and politicians has raised $6 million to defeat the initiatives, even as polls show support faltering.
"It will plunge Colorado into another recession," said Tom Clark, executive vice president of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. "And what will make it so unique in the history of our state is that it will be a voter-approved recession."
Proponents don't buy the doom and gloom. They said lower taxes and smaller government is the way to a better economic future.
"We're really in a recession right now," said Natalie Menten, campaign coordinator for the three measures. "Families, businesses, we are all trying to find efficiencies, cut down on wasteful spending. But we don't believe the government is following the same line."
The proposals would force the state to devote 92 percent of its budget to constitutionally required K-12 education funding, leaving little for higher education, human services and prisons and everything else, according to the report.
This year, the state closed a $1.5 billion deficit in its $18.2 billion budget. It projects a $1.1 billion shortfall next year.
Menten said the Legislative Council's analysis doesn't take into account potential government growth if the tax cuts stimulate the economy.