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Polling Report
November 5, 2003

All Three Statewide November Ballot Issues Faced Uphill Battle

Analysis by Floyd Ciruli

A poll taken only one week before election day showed all three statewide ballot initiatives attracting more opposition than support. Referendum A, the water bonding proposal, was losing 30% to 52% with 18% still undecided. The initiative to freeze the residential property tax assessment ratio had 48% of voters opposed and only 14% in favor. Thirty-eight percent were still undecided (or, more likely, completely confused by the issue). The proposal to provide video lottery terminals at dog and horse tracks was losing overwhelmingly with only 19% in favor and 73% opposed. A mere 8% were undecided.

Question: Referendum A—A proposal to finance repairs and build new water storage facilities by borrowing up to $2 billion dollars that would be repaid by water users through water fees.

Question: Referendum 32—A proposal to change the Gallagher property tax amendment by setting the assessment rate on residential property at 8% and ending the annual adjustment.

Question: Amendment 33—A proposal to add electronic video lottery machines at dog tracks. A portion of the proceeds would provide funding for state parks and open space and for the state to spend on promoting tourism.

This high level of mid-summer support exists despite continued casualties among American military and civilian personnel in Iraq, slow progress on government and economic reconstruction and increased criticism from Democratic presidential candidates.

The ballot question survey was conducted by Ciruli Associates for 9News/KUSA. Ciruli Associates regularly conducts statewide polling of Colorado voters on top issues. The poll was conducted Oct. 27 to 28, 2003 with 400 frequent voters (±4.9 percentage points).

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Water Bonds
The collapse of support for the $2 billion water bond initiative is the most surprising and reflects significant shifts in voter sentiment. The initiative began with 64% support in July but had only 30% one week prior to the election.

The large undecided vote gave the proposal a chance to close the gap before election day (although 35% of voters had already cast their ballot). But the supporters’ final TV and radio campaign was countered by a smaller, but high-profile campaign spearheaded by opposition from three former governors from both parties, Roy Romer (D), Dick Lamm (D) and John Vanderhoof (R).

The figure below displays results from two earlier ballot question tests conducted in July and August of this year. They show support for the water bonding proposal slipping in August, but still ahead by 57% to 24%.

Question: A proposal to add electronic video lottery machines at dog and horse tracks. Proceeds would provide funding for state parks or open space and for the state to spend on promoting tourism

Question: A proposal to repair and build new water storage facilities using up to $2 billion dollars that would be repaid by water users through water fees

Question: A proposal to change the Gallagher property tax amendment and freeze the assessment rate on residential property at 8%

The earlier polls were conducted by Ciruli Associates July 14-22, 2003 with 800 frequent voters (+3.4 percentage points), and August 8-16, 2003 with 601 frequent voters (+4.0 percentage points); both were conducted as part of regular reports on top Colorado issues. There are slight wording changes in the October questions. Water proposals and projects have a long history of producing conflict and controversy in Colorado. But proponents of Ref. A believed the recent drought and the proposal to build storage with no tax impact had a good chance of success.

And indeed, 69% of Colorado voters agree the state needs to build additional water storage. However, the legislative proposal had several weaknesses. It failed to provide significant funding for conservation or address mitigation for water transfers from one basin to another. Requests by some legislators to give the legislature veto over potential projects were rejected.

Finally, Ref. A proponents believed that not identifying specific projects would eliminate potential targets for anti-growth and anti-project activists. But that omission provided the fatal flaw in the proposal. The lack of specifics, coupled with usual opposition from environmental groups, helped entangle the proposal in decades-old water controversies, such as moving Western Slope and Arkansas Valley water to the Front Range.

The initiative was never able to bridge those differences (although the prime sponsor, Gov. Bill Owens, tried to reassure interest groups that this was not a trans-basin diversion bill). Pure raw politics also damaged the initiative’s chances. The legislative origin of the proposal was primarily Republican. Democrat opposition stemmed from both philosophical differences over the need and benefits of more water storage and a perceived opportunity to end the governor’s successful record in ballot initiatives.

Western Slope opposition opened cracks in the usually solid Republican front; Democrats were quick to take advantage. An unusual coalition of opposition included Republican Congressman Scott McInnis and former governor Vanderhoof joining Front Range Democrat legislators and former governors Lamm and Romer.

Finally, as Ref. A endured criticism and growing opposition during August and September, proponents (especially the governor) found themselves asking voters and interest groups to trust Ref. A’s process and promise not to divert water between basins and not to ignore conservation or mitigation. It was a hard sell for any ballot issue and impossible for water.

Although a majority of voters oppose the initiative, they still believe the drought is a serious problem and that storage is a worthwhile investment.

Does Colorado Need Water Storage?
Need additional storage 69%
Have sufficient storage 17%
Don’t know/refused 14%
Ciruli Associates, N400, Oct. 27-28, 2003

Question: Do you believe the state of Colorado needs to build additional water storage projects or does it have sufficient storage?

The post-election question now becomes: What is the next step for officials and planners who believe the danger of drought requires a response? Should the approach be localized and project by project? Or is there still a role for state leadership and financial assistance, especially for larger projects? A statewide study on water projects will be released later in November. It may lead to the next round of strategies for water solutions and water wars.

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The video lottery terminal campaign started with a huge war chest and significant optimism. Proponents believed the down economy and state fiscal crisis gave them a chance to overcome Colorado voter longstanding opposition to expand gaming. But the campaign never gained traction with voters. The most expensive statewide campaign in Colorado history (more than $10 million) had no positive impact on voters. Between the July and August poll the initiative lost ground with voters even as it began advertising (40% favor to 48% opposed in August). And that was before the Wembly Corporation, the prime sponsor, was indicted for bribery in Rhode Island.

The VTL campaign attempted to sell voters the economic benefits of increased gaming, such as jobs and tourism, along with money for open space. But an effective opposition campaign funded by Colorado’s existing casino industry started early and was able to cast the election as a dramatic increase in gaming for the benefit of an out-of-state corporation. The massive and slick Wembly sponsored campaign was effectively labeled “a big lie.” Opponents doomed the proposal by framing it as thousands of slot machines and five mega-casinos that would primarily benefit Wembly. Voters said the media campaign made no difference in their decision.

Did Gaming Advertising Help You Decide?
Helped decide to support 7%
Helped decide to oppose 19%
Did not help decide 73%
Don’t know/refused 1%
Ciruli Associates, N367, Oct. 27-28, 2003

Question: The video lottery amendment has had a record amount of money spent both for and against on advertising on TV, radio, newspaper and in the mail. Did the advertising help you decide to support the amendment or did the ads help you decide to oppose the amendment, or didn’t it make any difference in how you feel about the amendment?

Finally, the Wembly campaign’s aggressive strategy to attack the local casino industry and label them “hypocrites” was counter-productive. It damaged the reputation of the entire industry, and harmed Wembly more than Colorado casinos because Wembly needed a favorable vote.

This election marks the fourth time voters have said no to expand gaming since they approved gaming in three mountain towns in 1990.

History of Colorado Gaming Elections Ballot Issue
Yes No
1990 Gaming in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek 57% 43%
1992 Gaming in Trinidad and 13 other cities, towns and counties 30% 70%
1992 Gaming in Burlington and 16 other cities, towns and counties 28% 72%
1992 Gaming in Parachute 28% 72%
1992 Gaming in Central Platte Valley 20% 80%
1994 Gaming in Manitou Springs and public airports 8% 92%
1996 Gaming in Trinidad 31% 69%
Ciruli Associates, 2003

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Residential Property Taxes
Confusion and doubt were the most common voter responses to Amendment 32, concerning changing the Gallagher Amendment ratio on property tax assessment. A week before the election a large group of voters were uncertain how they would vote on the residential property tax change. The proposal dealt with a complex and for many voters esoteric area of tax law related to the assessment ratio.

Although proponents were able to raise sufficient funds to place the initiative on the ballot, they had little funding for advertising and Gov. Owens and several newspaper editorials came out against it. The effect of the change is to raise residential property taxes, a difficult sell even if the increase was small and arguably overdue.

Half of voters did not know how they would vote in July and 38% could not state a position at the end of October. The proposal began slightly ahead but fell behind quickly and was losing by more than three-to-one in these final pre-election test.

Editorial criticism argued that the initiative was premature and that the state’s overall fiscal gridlock should be addressed; including TABOR, Amendment 23 and Gallagher.

An interesting question will arise with the failure of the Gallagher Amendment freeze: If the state’s fiscal picture improves, will the motivation for reform tax and fiscal policies dissipate?

Interestingly, when voters were asked in this Ciruli Associates poll whether they would consider changes to the TABOR Amendment, a third said no (35%), but a majority, 51%, said it is willing to consider either some changes (30%) or entirely ending TABOR requirements (21%). Changing the TABOR Amendment

Changing the TABOR Amendment
Alternative A: Keep the TABOR Amendment in the State Constitution without change 35%
Alternative B: Keep the TABOR Amendment requirement to approve all tax increases but change the TABOR Amendment limits on government spending to allow state and local governments to spend more of the money they collect 30%
Alterative C: End the TABOR Amendment requirements and remove it from the State Constitution 21%
None of the above (vol): 2%
Don’t know/refused: 12%
Ciruli Associates, N400, 2003

Question: The Taxpayer Bill of Rights, known as the TABOR Amendment, requires votes to approve all tax increases and it limits the amount of tax dollars the government can keep and spend. During the recent economic and budget problems there has been discussion about changing the TABOR Amendment. Any changes would require voter approval. As I read you three alternatives concerning the TABOR Amendment please tell me which one, if any, you would support.

In recent days, Gov. Owens has proffered a compromise that includes modest changes in the three amendments. Also, there continues to be considerable interest group and editorial board support for addressing the issue before the problem gets worse. The fiscal crisis and political upheaval in California also provide some continued impetus for tax and fiscal reform.

The November 2003 electorate cast their majority vote for the status quo. Voters were presented with ballot issues and campaigns that produced confusion, doubts and asked voters to trust government: a sure recipe for a “no” vote.

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Colorado voters soundly defeated three statewide ballot initiatives concerning water, tax policy and expansion of gaming.

Referendum A - Water Bonds 12% 12%
Amendment 32 - Gallagher freeze 12% 12%
Amendment 33 - Race Track gaming 12% 12%

This analysis was prepared prior to the election based on Ciruli Associates poll conducted one week before the election. It describes the political conditions that lead to the results and adds some post election observations.

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Ciruli Associates is a non-partisan research, communication and public policy firm providing consulting for Colorado and national organizations since 1976.

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