DENVER – Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure asking if the state could keep tax revenue that otherwise would be refunded under limits set by the state constitution.
Voters also OK’d legalized sports books at state-licensed casinos, making Colorado the 19th state to legalize sports books.
More than 1.3 million Coloradans voted Tuesday on Proposition DD, a bipartisan ballot measure crafted by state lawmakers to legalize sports books and taxes the bets to fund a state water conservation plan. The measure would also open the door to tribally owned casinos to offer their own sports books.
The other ballot measure, Proposition CC, also came from the Colorado General Assembly, where Democrats who control the statehouse had referred it to the ballot. It asked if the state could keep revenue in those years when it has a surplus and is now required to return that money to taxpayers.
The revenue would have been allocated to transportation and transit, K-12 schools and higher education. But the state’s voters soundly rejected the measure defeating it by a double-digit margin.
Proposition CC saw 804,540 of Colorado voters, 54.20% of ballots cast, reject releasing the state from revenue restrictions under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. It was supported by 679,983 voters, or 45.80%.
Proposition DD was supported by 756,270 voters, 51.1%, and opposed by 723,665 voters, 48.90%, a difference of 32, 605 votes out of 1,479,935 total ballots cast.
In Montezuma County, with 100% of the vote in, 5,001 voters opposed Proposition CC, and 3,355 supported it – 59.85% to 40.15%. For Proposition DD, 5,204 voters cast ballots in opposition and 3,118 supported it – or 62.53% against to 37.47% in favor.
In La Plata County, voters were more evenly split on both state ballot propositions. On Proposition CC, 8,570, 50.72%, supported it and 8,326 opposed it. On Proposition DD 8,414, or 50.14%, opposed it to 8,368, or 49.86%, in favor.
Democrats in the Legislature referred both tax measures to the ballot – but unlike sports betting, Democrats and Republicans staked opposite positions on the surplus revenue proposal.
The campaign reflected longstanding philosophical differences over the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, a constitutional amendment that requires voters to approve new taxes or revenue retention measures.
Democrats blame TABOR’s revenue restrictions for chronic underinvestment in Colorado’s schools, roads and universities.
Republicans credit TABOR for keeping taxes low on the private sector, allowing it to fuel the state’s economic growth.
Proposition CC asked voters if the state could keep revenue in those years when it has a surplus and is required to return that money to taxpayers. Any excess revenue would be allocated to transportation and transit, K-12 schools and higher education.
Many local municipalities have adopted similar measures to fund their school districts and public safety.
TABOR also sets an annual state income limit that can trigger tax refunds based on a formula that involves population and inflation. Critics said that prevents Colorado from taking advantage of good economic times to fund schools and transportation.
Legislative leaders from both parties endorsed Proposition DD, saying it was time to bring sports betting out of the dark and tax it for water needs.
The proposal called for a 10% flat tax on net sports betting proceeds. Parent companies operating the state’s 33 casinos could seek licenses for onsite betting as well as online and sports gambling apps.
Enabling legislation passed this year would allow the Colorado Water Conservation Board to use the tax revenue – estimated at $11 million in fiscal year 2020-21 – for grants that further the goals of a state water plan launched under former Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The plan is a living document setting long-term goals to meet the needs of a growing population, agriculture, outdoor recreation and obligations to Southwestern states that rely on the Colorado River.
The state has yet to find a way to meet the water plan’s estimated price tag of $100 million a year. But the sports betting proposal harvested a coalition of environmentalists and farming groups supporting it.
Legal sports betting has grown since New Jersey won a U.S. Supreme Court case in 2018 allowing all 50 states to offer it. But most states that moved quickly to do so have seen limited tax revenue.
If Proposition DD passes, it also would open the way for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe to open sports books at their gaming operations.
An Associated Press analysis shows that seven states that reported on sports betting revenue for the fiscal year that ended in June generated a total $74 million in state taxes – a drop in the bucket for state budgets.
Reasons varied, from slow rollouts to the unavailability in some places of mobile betting.