A bundle of ballot issues

Voters in the November election will face a ballot full of proposals to amend the Colorado Constitution and change state laws.

Recently, members of the League of Women Voters (LWV) made a presentation about the proposals to the weekly Wednesday morning Forum at Heidi’s Deli, in Montrose.

Due to space limitations, the Montrose Monitor is going to go into the most detail about the ballot issues that are likely to have the most impact on our area.

The League’s Barb Krebs explained Amendments V, W, and X, which have been referred to the voters by the legislature. “We’ll start off with V. It’s quite straightforward. It lowers the age requirements to be a legislator in the state of Colorado”, from the current 25 years of age to 21.

Next comes Amendment W. “It changes the format of the ballot for judicial retention,” Krebs said.” It doesn’t have anything to do with how we retain or dismiss.” Essentially, W would simplify that part of the ballot.

On to Amendment X, which would give a legal definition to industrial hemp. Krebs explained that “This Amendment would remove all definitions of industrial hemp from the (state) constitution.” Those definitions became part of the Colorado constitution when the voters legalized marijuana. “There is upcoming federal legislation that may define industrial hemp, so this would give the state the flexibility to meet the federal guidelines.”

Nancy Ball, of the LWV, speaking about Amendments X and Y, which were also referred to the voters by the state legislature. “They both passed the House and the Senate unanimously in a bipartisan effort,” Ball explained. Amendment Y would change the way in which Colorado sets the boundaries of its Congressional Districts. Z would do the same for our state House and Senate districts. “Each of Colorado’s 7 U.S. Representatives and 100 state legislators are elected by district,” she said. “Redistricting is the re-drawing of those district maps; it’s done every 10 years following the census. Those maps stay in effect for ten years, and 2020 is fast approaching.

“Currently, under the Colorado constitution, the state legislature is responsible for drawing the Congressional districts, that is, the U.S. House districts. And, there are no criteria in the statute other than each district must have an equal amount of population. Amendment Y would transfer that authority from the legislature to a newly created commission–the Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission–to approve Congressional maps.” The commission would consist of 12 members–four from the state’s largest political party, four from the second largest, and four who are unaffiliated with any party. “Amendment Y also sets the qualifications, and establishes the process, for member selection,” Ball said. “The composition of the commission is intended to reflect the state’s racial, gender, ethnic, and geographic diversity.” It’s also required to include people from each of the seven Congressional districts.

Amendment Y is designed to eliminate gerrymandering, i.e. the creation of district boundaries that favor one political party over another. According to Nancy Ball, “It sets standards for transparency and ethics, that feature judicial review of the map. And, it establishes criteria for drawing the map. The added criteria include: preserving communities of interest, maximizing the number of competitive districts, and adherence to the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 which requires that a minority group’s voting strength not be diluted.” Maps can’t be designed to protect incumbents, candidates, or political parties. Public hearings and online input would also be required.

Moving on to Amendment Z, Ball said, “Currently, the Colorado Reapportionment Commission has the authority to redraw the (state senate and house) district maps after each census.” An 11 member commission appointed by the legislature, the governor, and the chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court have handed that. “They have had criteria,” Ball explained, “but Amendment Z adds more.”

Amendment A will probably surprise you because it prohibits something that was abolished long ago–slavery and involuntary servitude. Nancy Ball explained it like this. “Currently, our Colorado Constitution reads as follows: ‘There shall never be be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted’. This language is consistent with the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.” Amendment A would delete from the Colorado Constitution the phrase that begins “except as punishment.” Non-compulsory work release and community corrections programs would not be affected.

That covers Amendments proposed by the Colorado legislature. Now, we’ll switch to proposed initiatives that qualified for the ballot by citizens’ petitions; three are constitutional Amendments, and four are statutory changes to state law.  

Amendment 73 would raise taxes to specifically fund our public schools. Nancy Ball told the audience, “It directs revenue to increase per pupil funding by 7.8 percent. It fully funds kindergartens, and increase funding for special education, gifted and talented programs, English language proficiency, low-income students, and pre-schools.”

Montrose schools currently receive funding for half-days of kindergarten, while tuition is charged to parents for full days. However,  Amendment 73 would provide money for full days. Ball also said that 73 provides funding for state- mandated programs that are currently unfunded.

The idea is to help Colorado public schools recover from the serious financial damage done to them by four recessions over the past twenty years.

Under Amendment 73, the additional funding would come from increases in the state income tax and adjustments to  property tax assessments. The income tax would change from its current flat tax rate of 4.63 percent to a slightly progressive tax on personal income over $150, 000. The corporate income tax rate would change from 4.63 to 6.0 percent.

Ball explained how the always complicated property tax situation would be affected by Amendment 73. “Property tax changes are in the assessments,” she said. “For a school district assessment only, in 2019, Amendment 73 would reduce non-residential assessments from 29 percent to 24 percent.” Those of you who are farmers, ranchers, and business owners would be most affected by that. “The residential rate would be changed from 7.2 percent to 7 percent. It is anticipated, though that without Amendment 73, the assessment is going to fall to 6.1 percent for residential properties.” So, if 73 does pass, “the result would be a tax increase on residential properties of approximately .9 percent (9/10ths of a percent).”

Amendment 74 involves “Just Compensation for Fair Market Value.” This would mean that any government in Colorado would have to compensate a property owner when a government action reduces the fair market value of that property.

Amendment 75 governs contributions to political campaigns. Ball said, “It allows all candidates to collect five times the level of individual contributions currently authorized when another candidate in the same election loans, or contributes, at least one million dollars to their own campaign.” This would apply only to state and local elections, since elections for federal offices are regulated by federal law.

On to the Propositions. The first two, 109 and 110, have to do with funding for highway and transportation projects. Proposition 109 would authorize bonds for highway projects. It would also put a 20 year time limit on repaying the bonds, while also prohibiting the expenditure of bond funds on mass transit projects, and blocking any tax increases for CDOT projects.

Proposition 110 would authorize a sales and use tax increase, and the issuing of bonds for transportation projects. The sales tax would be jacked up by 52 percent for every $100 for twenty years, beginning January 1, 2019. It would also allow CDOT to issue six billion dollars worth of bonds for transportation projects over the next two decades. The measure would sunset in twenty years, and would include an oversight committee to keep an eye on how the money is spent.

Proposition 111 would set limits on so-called “payday loans,” according to LWV member Caroline Evans. “These are easy access loans, which don’t require a credit check.” The proposition would limit finance charges to 36 percent.

Proposition 112 would require larger setbacks for new oil and gas developments. Any new oil and gas development must be at least 2500 feet away from occupied structures. The requirements would also include vulnerable areas, such as water sources, schools, forests, fields, amphitheaters, public parks, and open stages. The current law demands a 1,000 foot setback from schools, and a 500 foot distance from homes.

You can get much more detailed information about all these issues, including pro and con arguments, from the 2018 State Ballot Information Booklet, also known as The Blue Book, which has been mailed to all of Colorado’s registered voters.


About the author

Dave Segal

Dave Segal

Dave Segal, a Detroit native, has been a journalist since 1977. He has worked as a reporter, commentator, and news director at radio stations in Detroit, Denver, and Montrose.

Dave has been writing and editing for the Monitor since its first print issue in 2003. He is editor and senior writer for the digital magazine. On the side, Dave has also done freelance writing, media relations, and a variety of volunteer work.