This fall, the Colorado Farm Bureau and oil and gas companies like Anadarko and Noble are poised to pulverize the very purpose of local government. By changing only 11 words in the state constitution, as Amendment 74 seeks to do, any property owner could claim that any government decision decreased the value of their property and sue local and state governments for compensation — with taxpayers forced to pay the price.
As a member of City Council, the unpredictable consequences of this broad measure cause me grave concern. Laws designed to keep communities safe and companies accountable could, and would, be challenged, effectively handcuffing local governments and the state from doing their jobs: to engage in public-facing decision making processes and to protect its citizens through collaborative policymaking.
In short: the measure is deceptive and extreme.
Think of all the ways local leaders help shape how our communities look — and how Amendment 74 could upend all that. Marijuana dispensaries, liquor stores, or strip clubs could open up next to our schools over zoning laws and community objections. It could allow more irresponsible development, such as heavy industry operating near nursing homes and hospitals. Even minimum wage laws, city planning ordinances, affordable housing projects, and safety protections could be construed as negatively impacting a property’s market value — and therefore become prohibitively expensive to enact or enforce.
On top of all of the common sense rules that could be gutted, Amendment 74 would open the floodgates to frivolous lawsuits at the taxpayer’s expense. Everyday Coloradans — individuals and small businesses — would have to pay more in taxes in order to fight in court, or they’d experience decreased safety and livability of our communities.
Facing negative impacts to taxpayers, the first question local leaders would ask themselves, “Will we get sued?” instead of “How can we help Colorado?”
A similar measure passed in 2004 in Oregon. After its passage, nearly 7,000 claims were filed within two years, reaching almost $20 billion. After three years of frustration, voters took action and rescinded the measure in a special election. The same scene played out in Washington: it was estimated to cost the state $2 billion dollars and county governments $1.5 billion over the first six years.
The changes to our state constitution are even more broad than the damaging Oregon and Washington measures. The potential cost to local governments and, consequently, to Colorado taxpayers, is insurmountable and incalculable. Luckily, the measure is opposed by a broad and growing coalition, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Republican mayor of Fort Collins, and others.
Amendment 74 threatens the Colorado we all love; it would pillage government coffers and neuter local laws to profit the few at the expense of hardworking Coloradans. I urge the Colorado Farm Bureau and the oil and gas industry to pull this dangerous measure from the ballot for the sake of taxpayers.