Decision-making by ballot was in high order in this fall’s election in Colorado. Tax increases and additions to the constitution and new statutes which never would have been created by the legislature were subject to much rhetoric and to limited discussion. For the most part the craziness was voted down.
Amendment 73, which would have added to the taxes of businesses and high-income individuals to provide $1.6 billion for public schools was defeated by 12 percentage points (following the 2016 election, amendments to the state Constitution require 55 percent approval). Residential taxes would contribute and the Gallagher’s factor’s downward spiral would be halted; on the other hand, noncommercial property owners would see a school tax reduction. And, a new funding formula was have been required.
Amendment 73 included appealing components, but it was too expansive to be absorbed by voters in a couple of months. It did not lend itself to yard signs.
More importantly, and unfortunately, 73 is not a mix that the Colorado Legislature would be able to design. Anything like it would require extraordinary participation from all players.
Coloradans made clear they also do not want to pay for highways with new taxes nor threaten the state’s budget. An additional sales tax which would have put a big dent in the state’s backlog of construction needs lost by 12 points (a statute, so only 51 percent was needed). A second, limited approach to use existing revenues to fund a smaller list of projects also failed by about the same amount. Voters likely heard the opposition cautioning voters that in difficult economic times, that money would have to come from other state needs.
What will be the next approach? The newcomers whom the state’s strong economy are attracting are growing the state’s highway needs. Current funding mostly covers repairs only.
The extreme oil and gas well setback distance, which originated in and around Boulder County, where wells back up against subdivisions, rightly failed by 8 percentage points statewide. Proposition 112 was too excessive for most of the state, and would have almost halted the exploration industry which comes with good jobs and healthy local and state tax revenues. Voters showed good judgment.
It was the possibility of a large setback requirement that caused the energy industry, aided by agricultural groups, to put forth the “takings” amendment to the Constitution, which would have had governments compensate landowners for reducing the value of their property – preventing drilling, that is. But that compensation could have been extended to the negative effects of all kinds of government decisions involving property, leading to government inaction and legal frenzies. Wisely, Amendment 74 was defeated.
Ballot questions can be overly simplistic or excessive, poorly constructed or miss their mark. And they can test voters’ wishes. A Colorado election can include examples of them all.