Farm Bureau urged to oppose drilling, health-care initiatives | PostIndependent.com

Farm Bureau urged to oppose drilling, health-care initiatives

State ballot initiatives that would limit oil and gas development and create a universal health-care system would be bad news for farmers and ranchers if approved by voters, a group of panelists advised members of the Colorado Farm Bureau in Glenwood Springs on Monday.

At the same time, the organization was urged to get behind another measure that's aimed at making it harder to amend the state constitution.

The Farm Bureau's Summer Ag Issues Summit, held at the Glenwood Springs Community Center, included a discussion on upcoming ballot initiatives.

Marc Truax from the pro-industry political action group Protecting Colorado's Environment, Economy and Energy Independence is organizing a "decline to sign" campaign against Amendments 75 and 78, urging voters not to sign petitions that would put the measures before voters this fall.

Amendment 78, in particular, would amount to an "outright ban" on new oil and gas development in the state by creating a 2,500-foot setback between industry facilities and homes, schools and other development, Truax said.

It would essentially make nearly 99 percent of Garfield County "off limits" to new drilling, he said.

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"This is a ban, and it is absolutely critical to our industry, and to your industry, too, to defeat this," Truax said.

Amendment 75, which would extend control over oil and gas development to county and municipal governments, is equally concerning, he said.

"In this case, local control is bad," Truax said, adding that regulation of the industry needs to remain at the state level.

Proponents of the measures are reacting to a rules-making process before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission last year that was ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper, which many felt didn't go far enough to protect local communities from the impacts of oil and gas development.

Amendment 69, the universal health-care initiative known as ColoradoCare, is already on the ballot thanks to a successful petition drive over the past several months.

It would write a new government-supported health-care system into the state constitution and impose a $25 billion income tax to pay for the program.

Supporters say the measure would actually save employers and individuals $4.5 billion annually in health-care costs by replacing the health insurance premiums they are paying now with the new tax-funded system.

But the measure is too broad and vague and would be detrimental to the economic gains Colorado has made in recent years, said Nick Colglazier, speaking as part of the panel on behalf of the No on 69 campaign Coloradans for Coloradans.

"This proposition is risky, uncertain and unaffordable," he said.

That's especially true for Colorado farmers and ranchers, who would pay 10 percent on their business incomes under the proposal, in addition to the 10 percent payroll deduction plan that would be split between other employers in the state and their employees.

"We cannot take a risk like this on something as important as health care," Colglazier said.

"And we don't need another thing like this to bind our constitution," he said of the difficulty to remove the measure from the state Constitution if it doesn't work out.

Former state Sen. Greg Brophy also spoke before the group, urging support for the Raise the Bar campaign to get a question on the November ballot seeking to make it more difficult to amend the constitution in the future.

"Colorado is the easiest state in the nation for a citizen or special interest measure to hit our ballot," Brophy said. "It's a problem, and it's getting worse."

Raise the Bar seeks to require signatures on petitions seeking to put a measure on the ballot come from each of Colorado's 35 state Senate districts. That's roughly 2,000 signatures from each district, Brophy said.

As it stands, all of the signatures to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot can be collected in Denver, he said.

The geographic signature-gathering requirement is one way to avoid what he called "antirural" measures.

"We get overrun by the Front Range all of the time," the former legislator from rural northeastern Colorado said.

Raise the Bar would also require that any constitutional amendments earn support from at least 55 percent of state voters in order to be approved.

Many recent successful constitutional amendments did meet that threshold, including Amendment 64 that legalized recreational marijuana possession and sales in 2012. Others, such as the 1992 tax-limiting TABOR amendment, did not, he noted.

The Colorado Farm Bureau is expected to take formal positions in the months before the Nov. 8 election on any state ballot initiatives that stand to impact agricultural interests.