Title Board on Feb. 5

Title Board members Julie Pelegrin (left) and Theresa Conley listen to testimony during a Feb. 5, 2020 hearing.

On Thursday, the Colorado Supreme Court ordered parties to file briefs on 16 proposed ballot initiatives facing a challenge that pertain to oil and gas setbacks and the state’s income tax system.

The Title Board in February set the ballot title for each of the initiatives after finding that they adhered to a single subject, despite challenges from objectors. The Supreme Court has the final say on initiatives if parties are dissatisfied with the Title Board’s rulings.

John Justman, a voter in Mesa County, brought the challenge to Initiatives 173-177, which establish setback requirements of 2,000 or 2,500 feet for oil and gas operations near occupied structures and other sensitive areas such as playgrounds and waterways. The measures are very similar to Proposition 112, which voters rejected in 2018.

Justman alleges that the ballot initiatives contain more than a single subject, including an “effective ban on new [oil] and gas development,” the taking of property, and the alteration of localities’ land use powers. Justman also claims that the Title Board violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights when it dismissed his motion to disqualify board member Theresa Conley from participating in the title setting. Conley, a former employee of the environmental advocacy group Conservation Colorado, had made social media comments that Justman deemed prejudicial to the oil and gas industry.

Justman also challenged Initiative 178, which would require oil and gas operators to demonstrate $270,000 in financial assurance per well for the eventual cleanup and remediation of well sites. He similarly believes there are multiple subjects, a misleading title, and that his motion to disqualify Conley was a constitutional violation.

The remaining initiatives received a challenge from Aurora resident Tyler Sandberg, and are all part of the Colorado Fiscal Institute’s Vision 2020 project. Proponents brought a high volume of proposals — 18, with minor variations between many of them — before the Title Board, yet only intend to place one on the November statewide ballot.

Among the features of the initiatives are a constitutional declaration entitling Coloradans to a “fair and just tax system,” the institution of a graduated income tax raising approximately $2.4 billion, and voter approval requirements for tax increases — requirements which already exist under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

Sandberg argues that each of the 10 challenged initiatives contains more than a single subject and has a misleading title. The initiatives, Sandberg wrote, create a “‘Christmas tree’ situation where voters with different interests are enticed into voting for the other issues in order to see their own interests satisfied.”

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