BOULDER — University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl says all the fuss over her opposition to Proposition CC is coming from everyone except those within the college.
Ganahl made headlines when it was announced she was going to co-chair the No on CC campaign committee. Some questioned whether she could adequately do her job as a CU regent opposing a proposition that supporters claim will put more money into higher education.
If passed in November, Prop CC would permanently eliminate remaining spending restrictions under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, allowing the state to keep all excess revenues that would otherwise be refunded back to taxpayers in perpetuity. The measure was referred to voters by the Democrat-controlled Colorado legislature earlier this year.
“We’re going to get along great,” Ganhal said about her relationship with first year CU President Mark Kennedy, who is on the opposite side of the proposition from Ganahl. “We talked about this before I agreed to be co-chair. “I told him this was really important to me. I’m a huge fan of keeping a voter check on government spending.”
Ganhal said Kennedy understands why she opposes it, and she understands why he supports it, adding she believes its highly unlikely the CU Board of Regents would have ever passed a resolution supporting CC with or without her on the campaign committee.
“I’m not the only Republican on that board that opposes it,” she said. “I just put a big target on my back by doing this.”
Others have called the situation “drama.”
“There is no drama,” she said. “I disagreed with President (Bruce) Benson — as did several of the regents — on the Hospital Provider Fee. There was no headline about that.”
Even the president of Metropolitan State University of Denver, Janine Davidson, who was a sorority Sister of Ganahl’s in college, sent her an email with a copy of Metro State’s resolution asking why Ganahl couldn’t get behind it.
Ganahl is clear on that answer.
“Our population has grown 15 percent in the last decade,” Ganahl said. “The budget has grown 71 percent. We don’t have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem.”
Ganahl called it an end run around the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) and only the beginning, saying proponents are using this as a first step to kill TABOR entirely.
“Colorado has the No. 1 economy in the country,” she said. “And TABOR is a big part of that. There are already a lot of things that go around TABOR. They’ve put $3 billion in additional fees a year through the FASTER program, Hospital Provider Fee and Referendum C.”
The Hospital Provider Fee is a charge on patients every night that they are in the hospital. The money is then spent on funding Medicaid expansion in the state. Critics contend that it is really a bed tax that was simply called a “fee” to get around TABOR’s requirement that new taxes be put to a vote of the people.
FASTER was a 2009 bill that increased car registration costs, and intended to improve roadway safety, repair deteriorating bridges, and support and expand transit.
Referendum C was a 2005 voter-approved initiative that allowed the state to keep and spend the money it collected over the TABOR limit for five years. It was marketed during the campaign to be spent on health care, public education, transportation projects, and local fire and police pensions.
“Have you seen education getting better or roads getting better or higher ed getting more funding?” Ganahl said. “And there are two problems with this Proposition. There is no sunset. It’s forever. And they did not put guardrails in to assure where the money is going to go. So in a year, they can switch it up. So a new legislative session to whatever they want. There are no guarantees higher ed will get any money out of this.”
Even some big-name proponents of Referendum C have come out strongly against Proposition CC.
Former U.S. Senator and CU President Hank Brown, along with former Gov. Bill Owens both campaigned in favor of Ref C in 2005, but have said Prop CC is bad for Colorado.
“Referendum C did not hold its promises,” Ganahl said. “That’s why Hank Brown and Bill Owens are not supporting Prop CC. They promised to provide a big boost to higher ed, but five years prior to Ref C, the average yearly (state) spending was about 12 percent of the general fund on higher ed. During the five Ref C years, the average spending was about 10 percent of the general fund.”
“The economy is booming,” Ganahl said. “If they want to provide more funding for higher ed they can do that right now. They just don’t understand the value of investing in higher education.”
Ganahl said that CU contributes more than $12 billion to the Colorado economy each year, and the state provides a few hundred million dollars to a $5 billion budget.
“I think that’s a pretty good return on their investment,” she said. “I do not believe that they will actually provide long term money for higher ed because they can do it now and they don’t.”
Ganahl also pointed out that Gov. Jared Polis has made it clear his focus is on vocational training and community college two-year degrees.
Ganahl, said she is walking a tightrope of honoring and protecting the voters of Colorado from a bad deal and making the best deal possible for CU.
But she called the idea she can’t do her job as CU Regent and campaign against CC ridiculous.
“That’s exactly what I am doing,” she said. “I’m looking out for CU and I’m looking out for the taxpayers and their investment in higher education. And I’m trying to get us the best deal possible. This is not a good deal the way it’s proposed. There are no guardrails that ensures higher ed is going to see funding for the long term.”