Tax hikes a key feature of Denver's fall ballot measures

Challenges to a dozen proposed ballot initiatives have landed before the Colorado Supreme Court in the last two weeks, as objectors dispute the ballot titles given to measures about oil and gas regulation, the petitioning process and farm animal confinement.

Initiatives 307-310 and 311-313 are similarly-worded proposals that would establish an independent board to replace the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Timothy Howard objects to the measures on the grounds that there are multiple subjects contained therein, and that the initiatives give the successor board authority over other regulatory bodies. That provision, Howard alleges, violates state law and is not connected to the purpose of the measure.

The three-member Title Board must set an initiative’s ballot title to appear before voters that is brief, yet also encompasses all central features of the proposal. If there are multiple topics in a measure in violation of the constitutional single-subject requirement, the board lacks jurisdiction to set a title. At its final meeting of the year in late April, board members revoked the titles of related measures that also altered local governments’ jurisdiction over the extraction industry. Two of the three members deemed those versions of the proposal to violate the single-subject requirement, whereas the board permitted the other four to receive titles.

Howard also objected to Initiative 300, which transfers COGCC authority to regulate oil and gas to local jurisdictions, if they wish to assume it, but also disallows localities from establishing moratoriums. Additionally, Initiative 301 would require the COGCC to publish an economic impact analysis for each new rule. Howard alleges that the titles for both do not inform voters of key features.

Among the other measures before the high court are Initiative 299, which would create a right to ballot initiative at most divisions of state and local government, but also creates confusion about whether it repeals the single-subject requirement. A similar proposal, Initiative 245, is also before the court and the justices are likely to render a decision soon. Kelly Brough is the objector to both.

Brett Rutledge and Joyce R. Kelly have objected to Initiative 314, which would prohibit excessive confinement conditions for farm animals. They claim that the Title Board did not adequately inform voters of the punishments dictated in the measure. Finally, Anna Jo Haynes objected to Initiative 315, which would divert tobacco tax money and tobacco master settlement funds to preschool programming. She believes that the ballot title omits too many elements of the proposal and that a provision to deny local governments tobacco tax revenue under certain conditions constituted a second subject.

On Friday, the Supreme Court upheld the ballot title for Initiative 271, which would establish a graduated income tax system and raise approximately $2 billion in revenue. The money would go toward preschool programming and addressing “the impacts of a growing population and a changing economy.”

Initiative 271 represents a fair and reasonable proposal to present to voters. The title clearly says what is in the measure and I'm glad the state Supreme Court agrees,” said Carol Hedges, one of the measure’s designated representatives and the director of the Colorado Fiscal Institute. “Now that the courts have decided in our favor, voters have a chance to make a fair tax part of our state's recovery from COVID-19."

Statewide measures require 124,632 valid signatures to be placed on the November ballot.

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