Voters face wide array of proposed amendments

As a service to our readers, The SUN is providing a guide to ballot initiatives during the weeks leading up to the start of early voting.

In the guide you’ll find the full text of the initiative as it is presented on the ballot, an explanation of the initiative in layman’s terms, and both pro and con arguments for the initiative. Hopefully, with clarification of the initiatives in simple language, as well as a balanced presentation of arguments for and against the initiatives, Sun readers who vote will have a clearer view of how they will decide the issues on the ballot.

On Oct. 2, the deadline for pulling ballot initiatives, unions agreed to pull four labor-backed initiatives from the Nov. 4 ballot. The initiatives, so-called “poison pill” amendments 53, 55, 56, and 57, were added to the 2008 ballot as countermeasures to anti-union amendments 47, 49, and 54 (and are explained in this week’s issue of The SUN).

The “poison-pill” amendments were pulled after an unprecedented coalition between organized-labor and Colorado business leaders formed for the purpose of defeating amendments 47, 49, and 54. Business leaders pledged $3 million and manpower to work with unions in campaigning against amendments that would effectively nullify the Colorado Labor Peace Act of 1947.

In a press release issued by the office of the Colorado Secretary of State on Oct. 2, “Amendments 53, 55, 56, and 57 would be withdrawn from the General Election ballot as requested by the initiatives’ proponents.” Although ballots have already been printed for the 2008 general election, “results of the measures will not be tallied pursuant to section 1-40-134,” of Colorado Revised Statutes.

The following three amendments — amendments 47, 49, and 54 ­— are the three initiatives opposed by the business and labor coalition. After dealing with those amendments, The SUN has also provided a brief discussion on amendments 52, 58, and 59 — amendments not opposed by the labor and business coalition — to complete the discussion of the proposed amendments on this year’s ballot.

Next week, The SUN will provide a brief discussion on the four referenda on this year’s ballot, as well as descriptions of the two county ballot initiatives before Archuleta county voters.

Amendment 47

Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning participation in a labor organization as a condition of employment, and, in connection therewith, prohibiting an employer from requiring that a person be a member and pay any moneys to a labor organization or to any other third party in lieu of payment to a labor organization and creating a misdemeanor criminal penalty for a person who violates the provisions of the section?

Simply stated: AKA “Right to Work” or “Right to Freeload” (depending on one’s perspective), this amendment would prohibit compulsory union membership as a condition for employment or payment of union dues as a condition for continued employment.

For: Workers should not be forced to join a union as a condition for employment, nor should an employer be required to collect union dues from workers. By making union membership optional, unions would have to become more responsive to member concerns.

If passed, Amendment 47 would make Colorado a “Right to Work” state. States with “Right to Work” provisions are usually viewed as being more business friendly because of the restrictions placed on labor unions.

Against: With the Colorado Labor Peace Act of 1947, Colorado labor laws slightly favor management; Amendment 47 would not only increases management’s advantage but would potentially sound the death knell for unions in Colorado.

Since union dues support the work and viability of unions, making dues optional would take away the incentive of workers to pay those dues.

Amendment 49

Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning deductions from governmental payroll systems, and, in connection therewith, prohibiting a governmental payroll system from taking a payroll deduction from any government employee except deductions required by federal law, tax withholdings, judicial liens and garnishments, deductions for individual or group health benefits or other insurance, deductions for pension or retirement plans or systems, or other savings or investment programs, and charitable deductions?

Simply stated: Prevents public employers from taking payroll deductions that benefit private organizations. Since charitable organizations are exempted in this amendment, this measure primarily targets union dues.

For: Government should not be involved in collecting money for unions or any other professional organizations.

Government employees should pay their dues to union representatives directly and eliminate the role of government employer as middleman.

Against: Like Amendment 47, this amendment would create an adversarial relationship with unions in Colorado by undermining the relatively good relationship between management and labor, created by the Colorado Labor Peace Act of 1947.

This amendment would potentially end union representation for public sector employees (i.e. teachers, highway employees, et al).

Amendment 54

Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning restrictions on campaign contributions, and, in connection therewith, prohibiting the holder of contracts totaling $100,000 or more, as indexed for inflation, awarded by state or local governments without competitive bidding (“sole source government contracts”), including certain collective bargaining agreements, from making a contribution for the benefit of a political party or candidate for elective office during the term of the contracts and for 2 years thereafter; disqualifying a person who makes a contribution in a ballot issue election from entering into a sole source government contract related to the ballot issue; and imposing liability and penalties on contract holders, certain of their owners, officers and directors, and government officials for violations of the amendment?

Simply stated: Would prohibit campaign contributions from contractors holding sole-source government contracts (i.e. contracts awarded sans a competitive bidding process) worth over $100,000, for a period of time up to two years after the term of the contract. Likewise, it would prohibit contributors to ballot initiative campaigns from being awarded sole-source government contracts relating to the ballot issue advocated by the contributor.

Since the language of the amendment specifies contracts as “including certain collective bargaining agreements,” the amendment would also prohibit campaign contributions from labor unions.

For: Contractors, labor unions, and business interests would not affect policy decisions or influence government because Amendment 54 would prohibit them from contributing to campaigns. Furthermore, businesses or contractors should not be allowed to profit directly from ballot initiatives that they have advocated for through direct contributions.

Against: Not only would this amendment disenfranchise certain classes of businesses from the political process — as well as labor unions — it would limit how business is conducted in more rural, less populated portions of the state. In less populated areas, counties and municipalities have fewer contracting options than larger areas and contractors would be forced to decide whether to accept contracts in an area or make contributions to a political campaign.

Finally, it is the third amendment designed to diminish the influence of labor unions in Colorado as well as destroy the Colorado Labor Peace Act of 1947.

Amendment 52

Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning the allocation of revenues from the state severance tax imposed on minerals and mineral fuels other than oil shale that are extracted in the state, and, in connection therewith, for fiscal years commencing on or after July 1, 2008, requiring half of the revenues to be credited to the local government severance tax fund and the remaining revenues to be credited first to the severance tax trust fund until an annually calculated limit is reached and then to a new Colorado transportation trust fund, which may be used only to fund the construction, maintenance, and supervision of public highways in the state, giving first priority to reducing congestion on the Interstate 70 corridor.

Simply stated: Amendment 52 proposes amending the state constitution to require the legislature to spend a portion of state severance tax collections derived from the state severance tax imposed on minerals and mineral fuels — other than oil shale — on highway projects along the I-70 corridor.

For: Amendment 52 increases funding for highway by an estimated $225 million over the next four years without raising taxes. If passed, it creates a permanent revenue stream to alleviate congestion along the I-70 corridor.

Against: Amendment 52 diverts funding from water projects and would ultimately hurt the state’s ability to meet its long term water supply needs. Amendment 52 could politicize funding for transportation projects, and does not guarantee that any new money will go to projects that relieve congestions on I-70. Staunch opponents call it the ultimate brainchild of special interest groups?

Amendment 58

Shall state taxes be increased $321.4 million annually by an amendment to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning the severance tax on oil and gas extracted in the state, and, in connection therewith, for taxable years commencing on or after January 1, 2009, changing the rate of the tax to 5% of total gross income from the sale of oil and gas extracted in the state when the amount of annual gross income is at least $300,000; eliminating a credit against the severance tax for property taxes paid by oil and gas producers and interest owners; reducing the level of production that qualifies wells for an exemption from the tax; exempting revenues from the tax and related investment income from state and local government spending limits; and requiring specified percentages of the tax revenues to be credited to (1) the severance tax trust fund, (2) the local government severance tax fund, and (3) the severance tax stabilization trust fund, which the measure creates to be used to fund scholarships for Colorado residents attending state colleges and universities, the preservation of native wildlife habitat, enhancements in renewable energy and energy efficiency, transportation projects in counties and municipalities impacted by the severance of oil and gas, and community drinking water and wastewater treatment grants?

Simply stated: Amendment 58 proposes to eliminate an existing state tax credit available to oil and natural gas companies, with the increased revenue mostly directed to college scholarships for Colorado residents attending state colleges and universities as well as the preservation of native wildlife habitat, enhancements in renewable energy and energy efficiency, transportation projects in counties and municipalities affected by the severance of oil and gas, and community drinking water and wastewater treatment grants.

For: Amendment 58 eliminates a state tax credit for an industry that is enjoying record profits while increasing access to college for middle and low-income Coloradans by creating a scholarship fund. Because resource extraction is dependent on the resource’s location, raising extraction costs should not have a significant effect on production in the state nor should it raise energy prices in Colorado. Colorado currently has the lowest severance tax rate among large-producing Western states.

Against: Amendment 58 makes Colorado a less enticing place for the oil and gas industry to do business and could result in a loss of jobs, revenue, and increased energy prices for Coloradans because higher costs for extraction and refinement could be passed on to Colorado consumers. Opponents also argue the spending plan is vague and relies on a volatile source of funding.

Amendment 59

Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning the manner in which the state funds public education from preschool through the twelfth grade, and, in connection therewith, requiring that any revenue that the state would otherwise be required to refund pursuant to the constitutional limit on state fiscal year spending (Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights) be transferred instead to the state education fund; eliminating the requirement that, for the 2011-12 state fiscal year and each state fiscal year thereafter, the statewide base per pupil funding for public education from preschool through the twelfth grade and the total state funding for all categorical programs increase annually by at least the rate of inflation; for the 2010-11 state fiscal year and each state fiscal year thereafter, creating a state education fund savings account in the state education fund; requiring that a portion of the state income tax revenue that is deposited in the state education fund be credited to the savings account in certain circumstances; requiring a bill to be passed by either a two-thirds majority vote of each house of the general assembly or, in any state fiscal year in which Colorado personal income grows less than six percent between the two previous calendar years, by a simple majority vote of the general assembly to use the moneys in the savings account; establishing the purposes for which moneys in the savings account may be spent; establishing a maximum amount that may be in the savings account in any state fiscal year; and allowing the general assembly to transfer moneys from the general fund to the state education fund, notwithstanding any limitations on annual general fund appropriations, so long as certain obligations for transportation funding are met?

Simply Stated: Amendment 59 proposes amending the Colorado Constitution to eliminate rebates that taxpayers receive when the state collects more money than is allowed and allows the money to be spent on preschool through twelfth (P-12) grade public education. In addition, it proposes eliminating the TABOR-mandated (Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights) inflationary increase for P-12 education, and would allow the state to set aside money in new saving account specifically for P-12 education.

For: Without raising taxes, Amendment 59 provides a future source of funding to educate Colorado students. A savings account for education protects P-12 schools and other state programs during economic downturns. Third, the bill solves an inherent tension between Amendment 23 and TABOR. For example, TABOR limits spending growth while Amendment 23 requires spending increases on education. Amendment 59 eliminates the friction while protecting education funding and retaining the right of Coloradans to vote on tax increases.

Against: Opponents say Amendment 59 is a tax increase because it permanently eliminates all future TABOR rebates. In addition, while TABOR rebates are supposed to be spent on education, the money could instead replace existing education spending, allowing growth in other state programs. Amendment 59 also places future funding for education at the discretion of the state legislature.

Lastly, without a TABOR-imposed limit on spending, government is more likely to increase fees. TABOR requires that money collected above the spending limit be returned to taxpayers. When the state is providing rebates, government has little incentive to raise fees because the additional money is rebated to taxpayers. Amendment 59 weakens this disincentive and thus is likely to result in an increase in the amount of fees charged to people.