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Election 2013

Primarily because of local issues, off-year ballot has become surprisingly interesting

Voters typically get a time-out in odd-numbered years. Mid-term elections can be interesting – 2010 comes to mind – but the major excitement comes every four years with the presidential contests. This year, however, should prove an exception. Voters in and around Durango will have a lot to decide.

At the state level, we can expect to see two measures. One will ask for approval of a tax on marijuana. The other would raise the income tax to fund education. The fact that voters must approve the seemingly obvious ideas that the state should both tax pot and provide Colorado children with an adequate education is a function of the so-called Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights – TABOR – enacted in 1992. Among its many provisions it requires voter approval of any tax increase.

Under the arcane rules governing such things, the pot tax will probably appear on the ballot as Proposition AA. That is because it is a statutory measure referred to the voters by the Legislature and the first of its kind since the current naming conventions were adopted.

The school-funding bill is now called Initiative 22 because it is the 22nd citizen-initiated ballot measure put forth in this election cycle. The rest went nowhere. It is expected to appear on the ballot as Amendment 66, in that it would amend the state Constitution and there have been 65 prior attempts to do that, which have met with varying success.

Cynics should be forgiven for harboring the thought that this is all a deliberate attempt to confuse the voters. This is not helped by the fact that Associated Press style, to which the Herald adheres, says that the plural of referendum – in apparently willful disregard of any knowledge of Latin – is referendums.

At the local level, things are simpler, although no less important. Durango residents will be given the chance to weigh in on the city’s effort to enact a fee on grocery bags. Only applicable to Albertsons, Walmart and the town’s two City Markets, the already-approved fee – a tax according to critics – would mandate a 10-cent charge for bags. That it inexplicably applies to easily recyclable paper bags as well as plastic ones lends credence to the idea that revenue, not the environment, is at the heart of this. That opponents also see this as convenient opportunity to send a message to – and perhaps redirect – the City Council should make this a contentious, but meaningful vote.

Durango voters will also choose whether to allow the city to enter into a 15-year contract for fire protection and emergency services with the fire protection district other area voters will be asked to approve. This is a seemingly complex deal that would actually have the simple result of allowing residents of three existing entities to continue to enjoy good fire-protection service while funding it in their own ways.

And, in what could be of the most enduring importance, residents of Durango School District 9-R will fill six of the seven seats on the district’s school board. This turnover is the result of a strange confluence of events – term limits, resignations, individual moves and a death – and presents District 9-R voters with an opportunity to reaffirm their support of local schools. But it also could allow for 9-R to be infected with the partisan or ideological rancor now affecting so many other institutions.

School board elections – like school board meetings – are too often seen by the general public as opportunities for napping. In truth, however, this could be a crucial election.

Voting is one of the ways we run our lives and our world. It matters.

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