A look at the statewide ballot issues
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Do you think the state needs to increase the severance taxes paid by oil and gas companies operating in the state?
Should residents in Black Hawk, Cripple Creek and Central City be allowed to vote to extend casino hours and bump up maximum bets? Does the state need to reform its ballot initiative process?
Voters in Garfield County and across the state are going to have to decide whether they support or oppose those three questions and 11 others that have been place on this year’s ballot.
Here is a quick rundown of all the state-wide ballot questions. The review is based on an analysis by the state’s 2008 State Ballot Information Booklet and Recommendations on Retention of Judges. Residents can pick up copies of booklets at the Garfield County Clerk and Recorder’s Office at the Garfield County Courthouse.
The amendment would amend the state constitution to prohibit Colorado governments from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to any person or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment, public education or public contracting.
Some exceptions would remain, like for federal programs, court orders and other legally binding agreements.
Opponents of the bill say discrimination still exists in the United States and that programs promoting diversity and correcting past discrimination have been successful, even if equality has not yet been achieved.
Supporters of the amendment say it prevents discrimination by removing preferential treatment based on gender and race. That sort of treatment can lead to resentment and treats women and minorities as if they cannot succeed on their own.
This amendment would prohibit requiring an employee to join and pay dues or fees to a labor union as a condition of employment. Any violation of the proposed amendment would lead to a misdemeanor penalty.
Supporters say banning union mandatory membership and dues gives employees the freedom how to choose how to participate in union activities. Implementing the law could make Colorado more business friendly, they say.
But opponents say states with laws like Amendment 47 are often viewed as less worker friendly. Implementation of the law would leave labor unions with fewer resources and make them less effective in standing up for employees, opponents argue.
A fertilized egg would have the same legal standing as any person in the state under this proposed amendment. It would change sections of the Colorado constitution to define a person to “include any human being from the moment of fertilization.”
Those arguing for the amendment say it ensures that all human life, beginning at the moment of fertilization, is afforded fair and equal treatment and that it would establish a legal foundation to end abortion in Colorado.
Those opposed to it say it would interfere with people’s ability to make private choices about their health and that it could interfere with the doctor-patient relationship. They also say the amendment could limit access to abortions and prohibit medical care, including emergency contraception, commonly used forms of birth control, and treatments for cancer, tubal pregnancies and infertility.
This measure would prohibit employee paycheck deductions except for taxes, garnishments, health benefits, savings, 401ks and donations to charitable or religious organizations.
Supporters say the amendment would reduce the potential for conflict of interests that can occur when elected officials permit the use of the government payroll systems to collect money for politically active groups, such as labor or professional organizations. It would also protect employees from unwanted paycheck deductions.
Opponents argue that the amendment intrudes on the ability of public employees to make individual choices about paycheck deductions. All public employees can cancel an automatic deduction. They say it precludes every employee from making decisions about organizations to support through a paycheck deduction.
Residents in Central City, Blackhawk and Cripple Creek would allowed to vote whether they want to extend casino hours, bring in new games and raise the maximum bets if Colorado voters approve this measure. It would also direct most of the gaming tax revenue that is generated from the new gaming limits to Colorado’s community colleges and to the gaming cities and counties.
Any future gaming tax increase would require statewide voter approval and revenue from new gaming limits would be exempted from state and local revenue and spending limits if this measure passes.
Those opposed to the bill say the amendment could significantly expand gambling in Colorado and that it could turn Central City, Blackhawk and Cripple Creek into high-stakes, round-the-clock gambling destinations. They also say the amendment would set aside tax money for specific uses, eliminating the ability to evaluate how the new money could be spent most effectively over time.
The bill would increase the state sales and use tax from 2.9 percent to 3 percent on July 1, 2009 and from 3 percent to 3.1 percent on July 1, 2010 to pay for services for people with developmental disabilities and to help eliminate waiting lists for services. The measure would also prohibit the legislature from reducing the current level of state funding for services for people with developmental disabilities.
The measure is estimated to raise about $89 million in the first year of the tax and $186 million in the next year when the tax increase is fully in place.
Supporters say the amendment will help many children and adults, along with the families that care for them, who are at the point of crisis because they cannot get the services they need. Wait time for services can last as long as ten years. By spending money now, the state can reduce future costs of government services.
Opponents argue that raising taxes may hurt the state’s economy and its residents, and that the economy is already struggling with a weak housing market and high gas and food prices. They also say that reducing waiting lists could be accomplished without raising taxes by re-prioritizing how the state spends its money and by eliminating government inefficiencies.
This measure, which would amend the state constitution, would require the state legislature to spend a portion of the money it collected in severance taxes on highway projects.
Companies pay severance taxes when they extract non-renewable natural resources such as coal, oil, natural gas, gold and silver from the earth. The amount of the tax paid is based on a company’s income or the volume the resource mined.
Current state statutes divides the money collected in severance taxes between local governments and state programs. The local government portion is distributed to communities impacted by the mineral extraction activity based on activity in the area or through competitive loans or grants.
The state portion of severance taxes is spent on loans for local water projects like dams, pipelines and canals, programs regulating mining activity and for other programs like low-income energy assistance and wildlife conservation.
Amendment 52 would cap the amount Colorado could spend on those state programs based on what was spent the previous year, plus inflation. That would mean that under current law the state would spend $181 million on state programs in 2009, this measure would slash the amount spent on those programs to $92 million. The remaining $89 million would be shifted to highway projects to reduce congestion along Interstate 70.
The other 50 percent would go to construct and maintain highways, with priority given to relieving congestion along the Interstate 70 corridor.
Proponents of the measure say the amendment increases funding for highways by an estimated $225 million over the next four years without raising taxes. The amendment would also create a permanent revenue stream for highway projects.
They also say the recent growth in severance taxes has resulted in severance tax revenue that far exceeds the funding requirements of the state programs it has traditionally supported.
Opponents argue the amendment would divert money away from Colorado’s rapidly growing water demand and maintain its aging system. They also say the amendment could politicize funding projects. They add the amendment does not guarantee that new money will go to projects that relieve congestion on Interstate 70.
This measure would prohibit government contractors from contributing to a political party for the contract’s duration and two years thereafter. It would also prohibit contributors to ballot issue campaigns from entering into government contracts relating to the ballot issue.
Those aligned against the measure argue that its broad scope could have far-reaching consequences for contractors, political candidates and elected officials. They say an individual holding a covered contract with one local government could be penalized for making a contribution to a candidate in a separate jurisdiction. They also say the amendment establishes penalties that are too severe for the offenses, including loss or disqualification from office for elected or appointed officials.
Supporters say the amendment promotes civic trust and government transparency. They say it ensures that business interests, labor and other covered government contractors do not influence policy decisions through campaign contributions. They also argue that the amendment furthers the efficient use of taxpayer dollars by promoting competitive bidding for government contracts.
This measure seeks to increase the state severance tax paid by oil and gas companies, by removing a state tax credit.
That credit allows companies to reduce their severance tax payment by 87.5 percent of local property taxes paid on oil and gas production. The amendment would also increase the number of smaller wells subject to severance taxes and change the tax rate on oil and gas companies.
The measure is expected to increase state severance tax collection by $321 million in 2010. Currently, the state’s actual severance tax is the lowest of the eight large-producing western states when each state’s exemptions, deductions and credits are taken into account.
State programs and local governments that currently receive all of the state severance tax revenue will evenly split 44 percent of all the collected severance taxes if 58 passes.
The remaining 56 percent would go to new uses such as:
– Sixty percent of that money would go to college scholarships for lower- and middle-income Coloradans.
– Fifteen percent would go to assist local governments, non-profit groups, and the state to acquire and maintain wildlife habitat.
– Ten percent would be directed to projects that promote energy efficiency and the use of renewable, clean energy resources.
– Ten percent will be used for transportation projects in areas of the state impacted by the oil and gas industry.
– Five percent would go for small community drinking water and domestic waste water treatment projects.
Proponents of Amendment 58 say the oil and gas industry is experiencing record profits and there is no longer a need for the property tax credit they currently use. They say it would direct money to state and community programs to improve the state’s economy, environment and infrastructure. Increased access to college for middle-and -low income Coloradans is critical to ensure the state’s long-term economic health, they say.
They also say that raising the extraction cost of these resources is not likely to have much of an effect on production in Colorado, and that the money raised by the amendment provides benefits to the state with little or no increase in the cost of energy for Colorado consumers.
Those opposed to the bill say it could negatively affect the economy of the state and the industry. The oil and gas industry contributes about $16.5 billion to the state’s economy and employs 20,000 workers in the state. They say increasing the state’s severance tax could make Colorado unattractive to oil and gas investments, especially as the state considers new rules for energy production.
The say the existing tax credit is justifiable given the higher property taxes paid by the industry. Currently, oil and gas property is valued at nearly three times the rate as other business properties. They also say it could raise energy prices for Colorado consumers.
The measure would eliminate rebates that taxpayers receive when the state collects more money than it is allowed, and spend the money on pre-school through 12th grade education. It would also eliminate a required inflationary increase for preschool through 12th grade education. The measure would also set aside money in a new savings account for education in the state.
Supporters say the measure provides a future source of money for educating Colorado’s children without raising taxes. A savings account for education protects Colorado’s schools and other state programs during economic downturns, supporters argue.
Those opposed to the measure say it permanently eliminates all future TABOR rebates to Colorado taxpayers. It would also eliminate guaranteed funding increase for education and places future funding at the discretion of the state legislature.
This measure would lower the age requirement for serving in the state legislature from 25 to 21.
Supporters say excluding 21- to 24-year-olds from seeking election to the legislature is an unnecessary restriction. Opponents say younger candidates may lack the maturity and real-world experience to be effective legislators.
This measure would remove a provision that allows the state legislature to delay taxing land value increases from planting hedges, orchards and forests on private lands.
Those who support it argue the measure reduces unnecessary language in the constitution by removing an obsolete provision. Opponents say special circumstances may lead to a future desire to encourage reforestation through a tax incentive.
It would remove provisions related to alcoholic beverages from two sections of the constitution. The measure would repeal language that requires the state legislature to prohibit importing, manufacturing and selling impure alcohol, wording that was a part of the original constitution in 1876.
Supporters say the constitutional restrictions relating to alcoholic beverages are outdated and clutter the constitution. Opponents say the measure has historical significance and reflects an interesting period in Colorado’s history.
The measure would decrease the number of signatures required to place a statutory ballot initiative, which the state legislature can later change, on the ballot and increase the number of signatures required to place a constitutional initiative on the ballot.
It would require that eight percent of signatures for constitutional initiatives be gathered from each congressional district and that drafts of proposed constitutional initiatives be submitted for review earlier in the year. It would also extend the time period for the collection of signatures for statutory initiatives, along with increasing the number of votes required for the legislature to change a statutory initiative for five years after the statute takes effect.
Supporters say the referendum encourages citizens to propose statutory initiatives rather than constitutional initiatives. They also say requiring signatures for constitutional initiatives be gathered from each congressional district ensures that citizens from across the state support measures before they are placed on the ballot. They further argue that limiting the ability of the legislature to change initiated statutes strikes a balance between protecting initiated statutes and permitting the legislature to address problems that may arise.
Opponents argue that the referendum makes it much more difficult and expensive for citizens to exercise their right to initiate constitutional initiatives “which they say are the best way for residents to set fundamental policies for the state.
They also say that the measure for statutory initiatives may not be sufficient to preserve voter-approved statutes from changes by the legislature. They further say requiring signatures from each congressional district could enable one part of the state to block a change favored by the rest of the state.
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