Three proposed ballot measures to give voters a say in the creation of fee-based government businesses, also known as enterprises, advanced one step closer to the November ballot on Wednesday.
The three-member Colorado Initiative Title Setting Review Board approved the ballot titles of Initiatives 273-275, which would require voter approval of new state enterprises whose projected revenues are either $50 million or $100 million in the first five years of their existence. In one variant of the proposal, the revenue cap would be $50 million in the first three years.
“There’s a coalition of conservative groups that have worked together on other ballot issues that will likely be supporting this and making sure it gets on the ballot,” said Michael Fields, one of the designated representatives along with Lindsey Singer. Both work for Colorado Rising State Action, a conservative advocacy group.
To meet the definition of an enterprise, the entity must be a government-owned business that operates on fees, has bonding authority, and receives no more than 10% of its annual revenue from state and local governments. The Colorado Lottery, the state's higher education institutions and the bridge repair program are examples of enterprises.
Importantly, enterprises are exempt from the revenue constraints of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. In fiscal year 2014-2015, Colorado’s enterprises generated $11.2 billion in revenue.
Board member Jason Gelender, the representative of the Office of Legislative Legal Services, was unsure if an existing entity that met the qualifications for an enterprise in the future would need voter approval to convert itself.
“We had that discussion with staff to about is it ‘prequalified’ or ‘qualified’ to start with,” said Fields. “I just don’t know the answer to that.”
Suzanne Staiert, representing Fields and Singer, clarified that voter approval is not for the entity, but for TABOR-exempt status. “If you want to take advantage of the TABOR exemption, you have to go to a vote,” she said.
Fields and Singer said that while they would consider some past enterprises created to get around TABOR excessive — citing the 2017 hospital provider fee which avoided budget cuts to hospitals — those past enterprises would be left alone.
“People don’t care if it’s a tax or a fee, it’s still money coming out of their pocket,” said Singer. Fields added that he believed voting on fiscal matters was popular among unaffiliated and some Democratic voters.
One feature of the proposals is that the $50 million or $100 million revenue projections would apply collectively to multiple enterprises that serve “primarily the same purpose.” Fields said the legislature would make the determination of how similar those entities need to be.
“What you’re trying to prevent is them splitting what would otherwise be one enterprise into 10 different ones to keep under the threshold,” he said.
Other ballot initiatives scheduled to be heard on Wednesday were withdrawn, including a repeal of Amendment 64’s recreational marijuana legalization and several versions of a proposal to raise cigarette taxes and institute a nicotine tax.