Members of the Colorado Title Board

Members of the Initiative Title Setting Review Board David Powell, left, and Ben Schler consider whether to set a title for the Petition Rights Amendment on Dec. 4, 2019.

On Wednesday, the Colorado Title Board is slated to consider a staggering 61 proposed ballot initiatives, many of which are slight variations on a single concept.

The Title Board is the three-member panel charged with setting the title and ballot question that appear before voters on proposed constitutional amendments and statutory changes. The board must determine whether initiatives adhere to a single subject, and then set titles that are brief but that identify the central features of each proposal.

This week’s agenda includes 24 proposals on the expungement of criminal records, more than 12 proposals about state income taxes and nine proposals pertaining to taxes on cigarettes and nicotine products.

Scott Gessler, the secretary of state from 2011-2015, said that proponents of ballot measures tend to submit variations on a single idea, “but in the past it’s been ‘several’ — no more than four or so, and usually only two or three.” Gessler called it “very unusual” to have the volume of initiative versions seen now.

“What you’re really seeing is just a few liberal groups flooding the Title Board with an unusually large number of variations,” he added.

The measures include:

Tax Deduction for Limited Vehicle Usage (Initiative #172): This proposal would grant a $5,000 state income tax deduction to residents who drive their primary vehicle fewer than 12,000 miles per year. An estimate from Legislative Council Staff is that the state would lose $394 million in revenue beginning in fiscal year 2021. The designated representatives are Brian Watson of Denver and John Brackney of Centennial.

Setback Requirement for Oil and Gas Development (Initiatives #173-177): These five proposals establish buffer zones of either 2,000 or 2,500 feet between oil and gas extraction operations and occupied structures. The setbacks also apply to “vulnerable areas,” meaning playgrounds, parks and streams, for example. The setbacks do not apply to operations on federal land. Variations of the proposals allow homeowners to waive the setback requirement on their primary residence if it is a single-family home. The designated representatives are Anne Lee Foster of Boulder and Suzanne Spiegel of Lafayette.

Oil and Gas Operator Financial Assurance (Initiative #178): This proposal would require oil and gas operators to provide assurance that they are financially capable of spending $270,000 per well to plug, reclaim and remediate the site, as well as to contribute to a fund that would clean up abandoned wells. The designated representatives are Foster and Spiegel.

Concerning State Tax Policy (Initiative #179): This proposal would amend the constitution to require that all residents pay the same percentage of their income in “total taxes.” Coloradans would pay at a level “necessary to provide the revenue to satisfy constitutional requirements.” The designated representatives are Carol Hedges and Steve Briggs of Denver.

Voter Approval of Certain Tax Increases (Initiative #180): This proposal would amend the constitution to require voter approval of new taxes and tax increases that affect all but the top 10% of income earners. The designated representatives are Hedges and Briggs.

Voter Approval of Tax Measures (Initiatives #181-182): These proposals would amend the constitution to require voter approval of new taxes or tax increases, except if the intended changes comprise less than 10% of all state spending. There is also a proposal to apply the concept to all other government entities in Colorado, excluding enterprises. The designated representatives are Hedges and Briggs.

Policy Changes Pertaining to State Income Taxes (Initiatives #183-195): These proposals would amend the constitution to change the state’s graduated income tax, with the intent that all residents pay roughly the same percentage of total tax. The amendments would also allow the state to retain revenue generated in excess of other constitutional caps. Most variations would apply a minimum corporate income tax of $250 to prevent corporations from paying nothing in taxes. In some versions, the increased revenue would go towards K-12 education and addressing “the impacts of a growing population and a changing economy.” Revenue would rise by approximately $2.4 billion in fiscal year 2021. The designated representatives are Hedges and Briggs. Hedges, the executive director of the Colorado Fiscal Institute, did not respond to an inquiry from Colorado Politics asking what she hoped to accomplish with so many variations on the proposal.

Expungement of Criminal Records (Initiatives #196-223): These proposals would establish an expungement procedure for criminal records in certain felony and misdemeanor categories. There would also be an expungement fee, which would fund a variety of programs from school supplies for teachers to life skills programs and geriatric healthcare scholarships. The Title Board previously declined to set title for one of these proposals, believing that the assortment of programs funded constituted a second subject. The designated representatives are Stephen Ball and Paul Ball of Denver. Colorado Politics left a message at the phone number listed for both men, but did not receive a response about the volume of variations on the proposal.

Increasing Taxes on Cigarettes and Tobacco Products and Establishing a New Tax on Nicotine Products (Initiatives #233-241): These proposals would institute a 42% tax on the manufacturer’s price of tobacco products and a tax increase of between six and 13 cents per cigarette. There would also be a new tax on nicotine products, including vape paraphernalia, equivalent to the tobacco tax. Localities may also impose their own such taxes. Revenue would go in large part to paying for preschool. The designated representatives are Anna Haynes and James Garcia, residence unknown.

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