The Alternative Voter’s Guide

The Legislative Council’s ballot-analysis booklet has inspired so many fights, it should be called the black-and-blue book. Here’s our cure.

With November 2 less than two weeks off, you can't turn on the TV without sustaining collateral damage from one attack ad or another. But the biggest danger to your safety may be those innocuous-looking booklets you've already gotten in the mail, describing the issues that will be on the ballot -- among them six proposed statewide amendments and two major metro-Denver referendums. Approximately 1.6 million of the ballot-analysis booklets published by the Colorado General Assembly's Legislative Council were mailed out at the end of September -- but even before that, the lawsuits were flying, decrying such sins as tobacco interests providing the wording for the arguments against Amendment 35. And for the metro guide, pro-FasTracks folks oddly offered both pro and con arguments for 4A.

What's long been known as the "blue book" might as well be called the black-and-blue book this round, given the knock-down battles that are sure to drag on long after the panic-stricken polling places close that first Tuesday in November. So in the interest of fair play -- and saving eyes from the strain of poring over all that tiny type -- we offer:

The Alternative Voter’s Guide

Referendum 4A: FasTracks
What the hell would it do?

Give us light-rail service to Denver International Airport -- which has to be worth at least a quarter of the $4.7 billion that's the estimated cost of FasTracks. The rest of the money would buy five more light-rail lines, 119 miles in all, going everywhere from Boulder to Longmont to Aurora to the Taj Mahal in Jefferson County, plus additional commuter-bus service. Of course, even if construction is completed on time (which is highly unlikely), it'll be twelve years before the massive project is finished -- twelve more years of construction hell. But maybe, just maybe, by 2016, people will be able to get around the metro area without a car. Or get home after a night of serious drinking without worrying about driving. (Heck, by then, Denver may even have stopped ticketing cars parked downtown after 2 a.m.)

To pay for FasTracks, the Regional Transportation District sales tax collected in the six metro counties would jump to a full penny on the dollar, from the current six-tenths. That's another four cents for every ten dollars spent on all taxable goods except groceries, gasoline, prescription drugs, and heating fuels and electricity. Sure, with the extra cash that tax would collect, RTD could pretty much buy a new car for every Denver-area family, as the Independence Institute has suggested -- but considering the number of oblivious drivers already on the road, we'd rather catch the train.

Who's behind it?

FasTracks Yes!

War chest: $2,619,715.60, plus $600,000 in loans from philanthropist Tim Gill and the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation. (All war-chest figures are cash donations as of September 29, 2004, the last reporting date for campaign-finance statements -- but the money's still coming in quickly.)

Big donors: Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, First Data Corporation, HealthONE, MDC Holdings.

Noteworthy supporters: Mayor John Hickenlooper and thirty other area mayors who joined hands for the cameras last week; former Denver mayor Wellington Webb; E. Stanley Kroenke.

Who wants it dead?

Taxpayers Against Congestion.

War chest: $14,486.

Big donors: Bill collector Brad Becker of Louisville, petroleum engineer Cortlandt Dietler of Denver, Robert Blackwell of Morrison.

Noteworthy opponents: Governor Bill Owens; the Independence Institute (which donated $110 and Jon Caldara's mouth); state senator Ron May, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

Fun facts:

• Denver had electric trolleys from 1940 until 1955, when they were replaced by diesel buses.

• Colorado Department of Transportation executive director Tom Norton came out against FasTracks, claiming that it would cost $4.3 billion to coordinate the light-rail lines with existing and planned highway projects over the next twenty years; in reality, expanding light rail would necessitate just two CDOT fixes, totaling $38 million, both already fully funded.

Best campaign snafu (so far):

Caldara and other opponents sued over the wording in the voter's guide, pointing out that intentionally ridiculous "con" comments were provided by Rebecca Barnes, deputy campaign manager of FasTracks Yes! One choice example: "FasTracks will waste your money. The average cost of getting someone out of their car for one FasTracks Ride is $24. Limousine rides cost less."

Guide to decide:

• If you drink Starbucks, vote yes.

• If you drink truck-stop coffee, vote no.

• If you like old country music, vote yes.

• If you like new country music, vote no.

• If you moved here from California, vote yes: You owe us that much.

• If you moved here from Texas, vote no: You're incapable of anything else.

• If you live in Boulder, vote yes. For your own safety.

• If you like sitting in Highway 36 traffic, vote no. You'll have more time to listen to new country -- or to Jon Caldara on talk radio.

If we were betting types:

Westword: 2-1 in favor of 4A passing, unless Governor Owens was responsible for registering and paying off those 6,000 felons.

Tony Robinson, political science professor, University of Colorado at Denver: 5-1 in favor.

Jennifer Garner, president, Garner Insight: 3-1 in favor. "Have you seen those great ads with Mayor Hickenlooper? Doesn't he remind you of Jesus? I mean, if Jesus is for it, how could you be against?"

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