Millions of dollars are being spent to sway your vote for the Nov. 6 election, and it isn’t only candidates who are seeking your support.
The General Assembly has forwarded six measures for the consideration of voters statewide, and another seven initiatives made their way via petition onto the general election ballot.
While three of the 13 statewide ballot measures are “statutory measures” calling for rewriting Colorado law, the nine others ask voters to amend the state constitution. Six of those proposed amendments came from the legislature; the other three are “citizen initiatives,” although big money (and in some cases, big corporations) are responsible for a lot of their support.
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All of the constitutional measures will require at least 55 percent voter approval each in order to pass, the result of changes made to the state Constitution under 2016’s Amendment 71. Statutory measures pass with a simple-majority “yes” vote.
Constitutional amendments from the legislature
Amendment V would lower the minimum age for service in the General Assembly from 25 to 21 years of age. The ballot measure actually came out of the 2017 legislative session, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Mike Merrifield of Manitou Springs and Republican Sen. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins. Were Colorado voters to adopt this measure, it would put the state in line with 43 other states that allow House representatives to be somewhere between ages 18 to 21. About half of the states allow senators to be that same age.
The only listed opponent for the ballot measures is Douglas Bruce, author of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
Amendment W is something of a technicality dealing with judicial retention. Currently, county clerks, when putting together the ballot, have to write a separate question for each judge who is up for retention. Under Amendment W, that would be shortened slightly by grouping judges under one question per court.
Below is an example from the Blue Book:
Proponents, including the Colorado County Clerks Association, claim such a change could lower printing costs, although the state Judicial Branch maintains it could be confusing to the point that voters might skip judicial retention questions.
Amendment X would take the definition of industrial hemp out of the state constitution, leaving the definition up to state or federal law. Hemp is a version of cannabis with almost no THC, the main psychoactive constituent of marijuana, and is used in products including textiles and food products. A definition of industrial hemp, as well as its THC level, was placed in the state constitution in 2012 under Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana.
Proponents claim that taking the definition of hemp out of the constitution would put Colorado’s definition in line with any future changes made at the federal level. Opponents, including marijuana lawyer Rob Corry, said the definition should remain in the constitution. He said that’s the intent of Amendment 64, and that the current definition provides hemp growers with certainty.
Amendments Y and Z deal with how the state draws its congressional and legislative maps. Currently, the General Assembly draws those maps, which has resulted in court battles in which judges eventually drew the maps, both after the 2000 and 2010 censuses.
Amendment Y pertains to drawing of congressional maps. This becomes even more important because Colorado is likely to add an eighth Congressional seat after the 2020 census. Amendment Z applies to the state maps for the 35 Senate seats and 65 House seats.
Each amendment seeks to set up a committee of a dozen commissioners to redraw the maps. Four of the members would be from the largest political party, another four from the second largest, and the last four would be unaffiliated. That’s led to complaints that minor parties (think Libertarian, Green, etc). would be excluded from the process. Under both measures, eight of the 12 commissioners would have to approve new maps.
Both measures are backed by Fair Maps Colorado, which has raised almost $4 million to get voter approval for the amendments. That’s included $600,000 each from DaVita CEO Kent Thiry and Stryker Medical heir Pat Stryker, another $500,000 from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and $700,000 from National Education Association. The oil and gas industry also backs the amendments through the Colorado Economic Leadership Fund.
Amendment A is a second bite at the apple to remove language allowing “slavery” as punishment for a crime from the state constitution. A similar measure in 2016 lost by just six-tenths of 1 percent, about 16,000 votes short out of 2.5 million votes cast. But almost 280,000 of those voters didn’t vote on the 2016 measure, which may have been due to confusion about what the measure would do.
The General Assembly approved this year’s measure unanimously, but it now faces the hurdle of gaining 55 percent voter approval instead of 50 percent, as was the case in 2016. It has no listed opposition.
Constitutional amendments from citizens
Amendment 73 is sponsored by Great Schools, Thriving Communities and seeks to raise $1.6 billion for public K-12 education funding through a tax increase on people with incomes above $150,000 per year, along with an increase in the corporate tax rate.
The committee has raised $637,000 through Sept. 26 to support the measure, with donations from a number of education groups and teachers unions. Its chief opponents are Bruce, former state Rep. Jim Kerr and a group called Blank Check, Blatant Deception, which has so far raised $729,000, mostly from the oil and gas industry through the Colorado Economic Leadership Fund, and the pro-voucher group Ready Colorado, which doesn’t disclose its donors through TRACER, the secretary of state’s campaign finance system.
Amendment 74 would require state or local governments to reimburse property owners when new regulations have the effect of lowering property values. Its public face is Colorado Farm Bureau but the real power behind the throne (and the money) is the oil and gas industry, which has so far put $3 million into the Committee for Colorado’s Shared Heritage.
The measure is opposed by the Colorado Municipal League, Colorado Counties Inc., Club 20, Action 22, and a host of other civic organizations. A committee formed to oppose the measure, Save Our Neighborhoods, has raised $1.2 million, mostly from groups like Conservation Colorado and the League of Conservation Voters.
Amendment 75 would change contribution limits when candidates contribute or loan $1 million or more of their own funds to their campaigns. The contribution limits would increase five times for the candidate’s opponent(s). The measure is backed by former state Rep. BJ Nikkel of Loveland and former state Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray. A committee set up to support the measure, Stop Buying Our Elections, has yet to raise any money. The measure appears to have only token opposition, primarily from Bruce.
Proposition 109 would direct the state to raise $3.5 billion in bond for 66 identified highway projects. The bonds would be paid for with existing state revenues, up to as much as $250 million per year. Its primary backer and funder, to the tune of $305,000, is the Independence Institute, which doesn’t disclose its donors through TRACER. However, SourceWatch claims its primary funders are the National Rifle Association and Donors Capital Fund, which is backed in part by Koch Industries.
Opponents claim the measure would require the state to take money from other priorities, such as education and health care, when the state hits another economic downturn.
Proposition 110, seen as an alternative to 109, would increase the state sales tax by 6 cents on a $10 purchase, and use those dollars to finance $6 billion of the state’s $9 billion transportation wish list, for about 137 projects. Proponents claim the measure would create a long-term funding solution for transportation; opponents, including the Independence Institute, say a tax increase is unnecessary.
Coloradans for Coloradans has raised $5.3 million to combat Proposition 109 and back Proposition 110. Their donors include the construction and real-estate industries.
Proposition 111 would cap interest rates and fees on payday loans to 36 percent, down from the high of 180 percent. Its primary proponents appear to be the progressive Sixteen Thirty Fund, which has contributed most of the $1.6 million raised by its issue committee, Coloradans to Stop Predatory Payday Loans. The fund has been active in Colorado since 2013, when it backed efforts to fight a recall of two Democratic state senators over gun control legislation. The Center for Responsible Lending also supports Proposition 111.
While the payday loan industry is opposed, it has not funded any opposition.
Proposition 112 is easily the most controversial measure on the 2018 ballot if the spending against it by the oil and gas industry is any indication. The measure would establish a 2,500-foot setback between occupied buildings and new oil and gas development, up from the current buffer of 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools.
Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy has raised $33.3 million from the oil and gas industry since Jan. 1, most of it to fight Proposition 112. The measure is backed by Colorado Rising for Health and Safety, which also opposes Amendment 74, seen as a response to 112.. The group has raised $812,000, as of Sept. 26, with large donations from the Washington, D.C.-based Food and Water Watch, whose donors include the Park and Annenberg foundations, according to Influence Watch.
The oil and gas industry claims the measure would devastate the industry and the state economy; proponents claim the setback distance is based on health and safety studies.