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A coalition of environmental groups Tuesday predicted grim news for Colorado's air, water and land if state voters turn down Referendums C and D in November.
"Without Referenda C and D, the state may not be able to safeguard the water we drink and the air we breathe," said Elise Jones, executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition. "The health of Coloradans is at stake if we don't pass C and D."
Meanwhile, Ref C foes fired up their own PR machine Tuesday, announcing that noted conservative economist and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman had endorsed their cause.
A professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, Friedman said he opposed Refs C and D because Colorado's strict spending limits are "the only thing that will reduce out- of-control government spending."
But environmental groups say lack of spending is hurting Colorado.
In a morning news conference at Denver's Confluence Park, Jones said Colorado already has a shortage of inspectors to monitor water quality and air pollution. And he said huge budget cuts that may be on the horizon if the referendums fail could jeopardize enforcement of health standards.
"If you don't have enough money to hire staff, you can't enforce the law," Jones said. "At some point, the system breaks down."
The two ballot questions are shaping up as the biggest political fight of the year, spurring a bitter split between Gov. Bill Owens, who has endorsed the referendums, and many of his fellow Republican legislators, who oppose them.
The Sierra Club's Susan LeFever predicted that funding for open- space acquisitions would be in jeopardy if the state has to make big budget cuts.
"Over the last four years, the state has cut $1.2 million from the parks budget," she said. "Without adequate funding, we're going to have a big problem."
Christopher Mann of Colorado Conservation Voters said his group would focus on trying to turn out 216,000 environmental voters to support the referendums.
"There's a consensus in the environmental community that C and D are critical to the future of the state," Mann said. "We're doing a lot of voter education getting people to understand what's at stake."
Opponents of the referendum proposal say the situation is not as dire as the environmentalists suggest.
"They love to give a sky-is-falling scenario," said Beth Skinner of Colorado Freedom Works. "It's just not true. Money that is being wasted could be channeled into (environmental) programs."
Also Tuesday, Students Against C kicked off its campaign with a 5 p.m. rally at the Auraria Campus Flagpole in Denver.
Students Against C bills itself as "a grass-roots group of students committed to ensuring personal liberties, and educating their peers about the dangers of increased taxes."
According to the group's news release, the event would "highlight what students regard as wasteful and inappropriate spending by politicians."
Referendums C and D
• Referendum C would suspend state spending limits for five years, allowing lawmakers to spend an estimated $3.7 billion they otherwise would have refunded to taxpayers.
• Referendum D would let the state borrow up to $2.1 billion against that money to start road and school construction right away.
• The impact of Referendum C on individual taxpayers would vary. Average taxpayers would give up about $490 in refunds over the five years, plus other breaks, fees or credits for which they might have been eligible.
• Ref C is a proposal passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature and endorsed by Republican Gov. Bill Owens, University of Colorado President Hank Brown and hundreds of civic and community organizations. Opponents include a majority of Republican legislators, both GOP gubernatorial candidates and the Independence Institute, a local free-market think tank.
• To read more about both sides of the issue, visit the following Web sites:
For pro-Referendum C and D arguments, go to The Bell Policy Center's Web site at www.thebell.org.
For arguments against the passage of Referendums C and D, go to the Independence Institute's Web site at www.i2i.org.