October 29, 2008

**Updated: 2008 Colorado Sample Ballot Guide--Amendments And Referenda

Scroll down for SP's 2008 Colorado sample ballot guide, courtesy of Julian Dunraven.

My colleagues at the Peoples Press Collective have created a quick guide and printer-friendly ballot guide (also available on you web enabled mobile device).

For additional information and more insight, Ben DeGrow has compiled the most comprehensive roundup of guides from Colorado bloggers and pundits from the center-right on the ballot initiatives.

By Julian Dunraven J.D., M.P.A.

Dear friends,

This year, the Colorado ballot will be especially long. Already, I have received many calls asking me to briefly explain the various amendments and referenda issues from people who have neither the time nor the inclination to do the political research themselves. For those of you who are dreading the process of plowing through the lengthy ballot though, I hope this helps lessen that burden somewhat.

Also, for those of you who are wary of trusting a conservative curmudgeon on his word alone, you can find the philosophical principles I used to come to these decisions at the end of this post. If you read them you will know that you have become a true political nerd.

Finally, before we begin, I should explain that all the amendments, whether to the state constitution or to the Colorado Revised statutes, are brought by issue groups through the ballot initiative process. The referenda questions, on the other hand, are referred to the people by the state legislature. Without further ado, here are Colorado’s ballot questions for the 2008 election.

Amendment 46: YES

This amendment to the Colorado constitution would end all state based affirmative action programs, as California has done. Merit would then be the only standard for public employment, public education, and public contracting. Private institutions would be unaffected. This is as it should be. Discrimination or preference granting on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin should have no place in the modern world, where all people should be treated equally.

Amendment 47: YES

The Colorado Right to Work Amendment to the Colorado constitution would prohibit any employer or organization from requiring an employee to join a labor union. While unions serve many good purposes, no one should be required to join one against their will.

Amendment 48: NO

This amendment to the Colorado constitution would define the term “person” to include any human being from the moment of fertilization. The purpose of doing so is to find a back door method of outlawing abortion. Even if one is pro-life, though, this amendment is ill conceived as it would bring an aborted fetus under the purview of our murder laws and otherwise attempt to bring to a fetus into the same rights enjoyed by all other “persons.” By doing so, it would wreak havoc with our legal system, at great expense to the taxpayers, while doing absolutely nothing to change the constitutionality of abortion under the U.S. Constitution—as the Colorado Catholic Bishops have wisely pointed out. If people really want to end abortion through law, then they need to work on passing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, not the Colorado constitution.

Amendment 49: YES

This amendment to the Colorado constitution would end the practice whereby the government collects union dues from public employees directly out of their paychecks. There is no reason that our government should be using taxpayer money to collect dues for a private organization— much less one that carries out lobbying activities. That creates an ethical nightmare. Any private organization should be responsible for collecting its own dues.

Amendment 50: YES

This amendment to the Colorado constitution would allow local communities to extend casino hours of operation, as well as raise the limit on any single bet to $100. This amendment does three things I like: it increases freedom for the local communities; it increases tax revenue for the state through longer hours of operation and higher betting limits; and it improves safety on the roads through longer hours of operation, so that the casinos are not all emptying out at the same time. For those of you who oppose gambling in general, I submit that you should still support this amendment for those last two reasons. Gambling will remain in the state whether this amendment passes or not. However, this amendment will generate more revenue for the state, and ensure that a practice you may consider dangerous or objectionable, is carried out in a safer manner.

Amendment 51: NO

This amendment to the Colorado Revised Statutes would increase state sales taxes in order to assist long-term care for people with developmental disabilities. I oppose this for three reasons. First, I am generally against any tax increases unless absolutely necessary. Second, it places undue restrictions on the ability of the legislature to regulate the budget. Colorado's laws already unduly encumber the state legislature’s ability to set and regulate the budget. We should not make it any more cumbersome. Finally, if there is truly need for this, it should be discussed and voted upon in the legislature. The legislature is best equipped to analyze our tax system and revenues. It also provides a forum for all interested parties to be heard, and to tailor the proposal accordingly. The people simply do not have access to all the information the legislature has, nor can they hear from all interested parties in order to make the best and most educated decision. If, after considering all the facts, the legislature determines a tax increase may be necessary to protect and care for the developmentally disabled, then it can ask the people to support a tax increase through a referendum.

Amendment 52: NO

This amendment to the Colorado constitution governs the allocation of revenues from the Colorado state severance tax imposed on minerals and mineral fuels. Allocation of revenue from a severance tax is something that should properly be left the legislature for the same reasons I gave regarding Amendment 51. In any case it should certainly be done via statute, and not enshrined in the Colorado constitution. Our constitution is muddled enough without locking in yet another regulation on our revenues.

Amendment 53: NO

This amendment to the Colorado Revised Statutes extends criminal liability of a business entity to its executive officials. I object to this for two reasons. First, the reason we do business through corporations is precisely because there is little to no personal liability involved. This encourages people not only to invest but become involved with business and promotes a good and healthy economy. As most people realize that no single individual can ever be responsible for everything a corporation does, to impose individual criminal liability on business executives discourages investment and involvement and dampens the economy. Next, because this amendment conditions liability on whether or not the executive in question knowingly failed to meet a duty imposed by law, the amendment actually encourages executives to be ignorant of the law and its obligations. That is not something our legal system should be fostering.

Amendment 54: NO

This amendment to the Colorado constitution is yet another vain attempt to remove money from politics. In this case, it is trying to prevent any company or person with contracts from the government from making political contributions to a party or candidate, provided that those contracts were awarded without competitive bidding. The prohibitions would remain in place through the duration of the contract, and for two years thereafter. Our campaign finance regulations are already quite thorough. Records of campaign contributions are available for anyone who is interested. If, after inspecting those records, anyone is displeased by a candidate’s behavior concerning its donors, then he or she is free to vote against that candidate. Both businesses and people have a constitutional right to petition their government. In the interest of preventing corruption we may regulate that right somewhat, and indeed, our campaign finance laws have done so. However, we should certainly not eliminate that right altogether –especially not for two entire years because of an irrational fear that all money is corrupting. We will never remove money from politics altogether. The best we can do is to ensure transparency—and we have done so. This amendment attempts to go well beyond that, and succeeds only in trampling the right of people and business to petition the government.

Amendment 55: NO

This amendment to the Colorado constitution would require that any employer establish just cause before dismissing or suspending any employee. This would effectively subject all business in Colorado to the same employment standards used by the Federal government. Thus, before a McDonalds could fire even a 16 year old worker who refused to show up to work on time—if at all, treated customers poorly, and consistently “miscounted” the money he or she took in, the company would have to document all of these behaviors over time so as to be able to prove them to a court in a civil suit. This process can often take months or even a year to complete. Managers and public policy experts already call for a reform of this inefficient system in the federal government. Our economy should not be so restrained, and would suffer greatly under such stifling and inefficient regulation—as would the liberty of private entrepreneurs. Perhaps even more alarming, the costs and burden this would place on our courts would be astronomical, and would quickly require large tax increases to pay for the huge number of new courtrooms and judicial staff that would be required to deal with the volume of new employment litigation cases.

Amendment 56: NO

This amendment to the Colorado constitution would require all employers with more than 20 employees to provide health insurance coverage to their employees. If it passes, Colorado will become the most hostile state in the union for business and entrepreneurship. It will kill all incentive to invest in the state, and all current business will flee to other states. In short, it is a virtual guarantee of economic ruin for the state of Colorado.

Amendment 57: NO

This amendment to the Colorado Revised Statutes would require employers to provide a safe and healthy workplace for all of their employees. While sounding fairly pleasant, the law is so vaguely worded as to have little or no actual meaning. This amendment would serve little purpose save to encourage frivolous litigation.

Amendment 58: NO

This amendment to the Colorado Revised Statutes would eliminate the severance tax credit for oil and gas extraction. It would also, then, dictate how the increased revenue should be spent. As I have stated earlier, these sorts of questions regarding taxation and how revenue should be spent should properly be decided by the legislature, where all arguments can be heard and compromises can be made appropriately. After deliberating upon the options, if the legislature wishes to submit a referenda item to the people to approve or disapprove of a tax increase, it is free to do so. Without that prior work, debate, and analysis, the people are ill equipped to decide whether repealing this tax credit is necessary. We are even more ill equipped to decide how the increased revenues from that tax should be spent. We simply do not have access to all the information or interested parties. Thus, until this question can be properly debated by the legislature, I oppose any change in the law.

Amendment 59: NO

Currently in Colorado, if the state collects surplus revenue in taxes, those excess taxes are refunded to the people under the Taxpayer’s Bill Of Rights if (TABOR). Under Amendment 59 to the Colorado constitution, though, those refunds would no longer occur. Instead, any surplus revenue generated by taxes would be put into a slush fund for K-12 public education. This amendment eviscerates TABOR, and creates an unlimited slush fund for one of the most inefficient and badly run systems in our government: the public school system. At a time when everyone is talking about how best to reform the public school system, it would be very unwise to give them a blank check. I certainly do not want to sacrifice TABOR to do so.

Referendum L: YES

In this referendum, the state legislature asks if the Colorado constitution should be amended to permit any person, twenty one years or older, to serve in the Colorado General Assembly. Currently, the minimum age is set at 25 years. Given that all other rights confer upon people at the age of 21, it make sense that the right to serve in the legislature should as well. True, most 21 year olds do not have the wisdom to serve in the legislature and inspire little confidence. However, there are a few exceptional 21 year olds who might be ideally suited to the position. I would hate to prevent such an exceptional individual from serving the people in public office simply because of an age requirement, and I have every confidence that our people would never vote for someone they considered unqualified for office. Thus, this amendment can do no harm, but could do a great deal of good.

Referendum M: YES

In this referendum, the state legislature asks if the Colorado constitution should be amended to remove obsolete provisions. The constitution should never be cluttered with regulations that can become obsolete. Removing such provisions is always a good thing, and trimming down law is usually a good thing.

Referendum N: YES

This referendum likewise asks to remove other obsolete provisions from the state constitution.

Referendum O: YES

In this referendum, the state legislature asks whether the state constitution should be amended so that it will be more difficult to amend in the future. Currently, it is just as easy to bring a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution as it is to amend the state statutes. Thus, almost all ballot initiatives attempt to amend the state constitution rather than the statutes so that the state legislature cannot change anything. This has led to an incredibly cluttered constitution, full of conflicting provisions which frequently impose such stringent financial obligations as to leave the state unable to adjust in times of hardship. This should not be. The constitution should be limited to the most fundamental expression of rights and government structures; it should not be a legislative depot for every issue group in the state. Thus, by making the constitution slightly harder to amend, we will encourage issue groups to bring ballot initiatives which amend the state statutes instead of the constitution. Thus, if they turn out to have unfortunate and unintended consequences, we can easily change them rather than suffer through a constitutionally created budget crisis such as spurred the need for Referenda C a few years ago. And yes, the state statutes will remain quite easy to amend through the ballot initiative process, so you fans of direct democracy have no need to fear.

Governing Philosophy:

For those of you who might wonder how I came to these decisions, I have a simple legislative philosophy. First, I do not believe the state constitution should be amended save to express guaranteed rights of our citizenry or to give fundamental structure to government entities. The constitution is no place for simple policy or tax plans, which may need to change drastically over time. Those should be limited to the Colorado Revised Statutes, which can be changed as needed by the legislature.

Second, I do not believe the people should be amending even the statutes lightly. The legislature exists to provide a forum for all interested parties to debate and express their opinions about policy. Through that forum, the senators and representatives can consider all available information and modify legislation based on that insight. The people do not have that advantage. In any ballot initiative, the only opinions we hear are from groups well funded enough to advertise extensively. Also, the people cannot modify or amend a ballot initiative as the legislature can with a bill. This means we must simply accept or reject what is offered to us on the basis of what is often limited or faulty information. As such, ballot initiatives should be used only to express clear, broad policy. Anything else, such as specific tax or revenue plans, should be left to the legislature. If our vote is needed, they can ask us for it through the referenda process. This is why we believe in a representative government rather than direct democracy in the first place. If you are concerned about such things, write your district senator or representative. At the state level, they ALWAYS have time to meet with you in person about it if you wish.

Finally, I think any legislation must pass a three part test before I will support it:

(1) The proposed law must address an issue of instability in society;

(2) The proposed law must be narrowly tailored so as to achieve its purpose while still promoting individual liberty to the greatest extent possible; and

(3) The proposed law must be enforceable so as to prevent arbitrary and capricious government actions which result in instability (back to step 1).

If any piece of legislation fails to meet a single part of this test, then it should not become law.

I believe that if you go back over the ballot initiatives with these standards in mind, you will come to the same conclusions I have. Thank you for your indulgence. I hope that this may be of some help to you in deciding how to vote over the next few weeks.

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