Ballot cheat sheet: from Gallagher to gambling, we got the goods

Ballot cheat sheet: from Gallagher to gambling, we got the goods
Missy Votel - 10/15/2020

It's a barn burner year for the Colorado ballot, with 11 statewide initiatives, running the gamut from wolves and bingo to everyone’s favorite: taxes. In addition, local voters will be asked to weigh in on a local school bond issue as well as new county commissioners, representatives, senators, judges and, of course, POTUS.

For the sake of everyone’s sanity, this cheat sheet will deal only with the ballot issues (remember: amendments are changes to the State Constitution whereas propositions apply to state statute (i.e. laws.) For a refresher on candidates, see last week’s “Retooned” crib sheet by Shan Wells as well as our commissioner candidate questionnaire.

Below, we will lay out the basics of every measure, the pros and cons, as well as donors and, last but not least, how we’re voting. So grab a pen, a cup of coffee (or something stronger) and settle in. We promise to make this as painless as possible. After that, the real work is up to you to get that ballot in the box.  

 

1. Amendment B, Gallagher Amendment Repeal (legislatively referred)

The 411: Ah, the Gallagher Amendment – able to glaze over the eyes of even the most earnest of Blue Book connoisseurs, so let’s get it out of the way first.

Dennis Gallagher, the longtime Colorado lawmaker and namesake of the Gallagher Amendment (which he still supports).

To make it as clear as possible, let’s start with the basics. In order to pay for local government services, like public schools, libraries, transportation and police, we have property taxes, which are assessed in a complicated formula we won’t go into here (you’re welcome). In 1982, this Gallagher guy (the lawmaker and not the watermelon-smashing comedian) came along and decided it was a good idea to set into stone a fixed ratio that dictated taxes from residential property make up 45 percent of the total share of state property tax revenue while the other 55 percent must come from non-residential, aka commercial, property. 

Of course, as anyone who’s perused the real estate listings in the last 40 years knows, home prices have risen at a much higher rate than commercial property. As a result, nonresidential property owners have had to pay a proportionately larger share to keep the ratio constant while residential rates have dropped, and continue to do so. For example, to keep the 45/55 split, residential property assessment rates have dropped from 21 percent to the current rate of 7.15 percent, while nonresidential property is now assessed at 29 percent of value. This, despite the fact that residential property makes up about 80 percent of the assessed value of all property in the state.

We like to think of it as going to dinner with a really big guest who eats almost everything and then leaves you with some scraps and skips out on the bill. Except the ones left most hungry are schools and local governments. Rural towns that have not seen as big of increases in home prices (think Dove Creek vs. Telluride) are also especially hard hit by the dropping home-assessment rates. 

Seeing a potential catastrophe on the horizon, legislators got together and came up with Amendment B, which would repeal the Gallagher Amendment. In its place, it would freeze the state’s property tax rates at current levels (7.15 percent for residential and 29 percent for non-residential). Legislative approval would be required for any future assessment rate decreases while increases would require voter approval under TABOR.

Those in favor say: The Gallagher Amendment is outdated and full of unintended consequences. If not repealed, owners of high-end homes in Denver would get a tax cut next year while small businesses and farmers would pay more. The Gallagher Amendment also unfairly penalizes rural and low-income communities that lack a significant commercial tax base. 

Colorado already has some of the lowest residential property taxes in the nation, and without Amendment B, we will see deep cuts to schools, hospitals, fire protection, law enforcement and other local services. Amendment B will also reduce state aid for schools. Many local jurisdictions have already instituted mill-levy overrides to combat the fallout of Gallagher.

The measure was sponsored by Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Denver, and is supported by Colorado Coming Together. 

Those against say: Amendment B will result in higher property taxes by preventing future drops in the residential assessment rate, which could translate to higher rents. In addition, it removes important protections for homeowners, who may end up paying an increasing share of property taxes. Better alternatives include having voters approve local tax increases or decide for themselves how to best fund services.

Opponents include Keep Property Taxes Low, which was created by Michael Fields, director of Colorado Rising State Action.

How we’re voting: Yes. The Gallagher Amendment is a classic case of “seemed like a good idea at the time.” But the hangover of the low-property tax party is crippling.   

 

2. Amendment C, Charitable Bingo and Raffles (legislatively referred) 

The 411: Under state law, if a nonprofit wants to hold a raffle, sell pull tabs or even just host a simple bingo game, they must get a license from the state, which requires they have been in existence for five years. In addition, anyone organizing or running the gaming must be a member of the organization working as an unpaid volunteer.

Amendment C would change the time requirement from five years to three and allow organization to hire outside help (at minimum wage) to organize and run the events.  

Those in favor say: Allowing newer nonprofits to hold bingo-raffle games will improve their longterm success and expand fund-raising opportunities. Also, allowing them to pay workers reduces the added burden to provide volunteers. 

The measure has wide bi-partisan support in the state House and Senate.

Those against say: Professionalizing bingo-raffle operations undermines charitable fundraising, and expanding the number of nonprofits able to participate may make bingo-raffle games more like for-profit gambling than charitable fundraising.

How we’re voting: Yes. The world would be a better place if we all played a little more bingo. 

 

3. Amendment 76, Citizenship Requirement for Voting (citizen initiated)

The 411: This would change the Colorado Constitution to state that “only a citizen” of the U.S. who is 18 years or older can vote in Colorado. The existing language dictates that “every citizen” of the United States can vote in Colorado, and 17-year-olds can vote in primary elections if they will be 18 by the general election.

Those in favor say: Voting is a fundamental right reserved for U.S. citizens, and Amendment 76 guarantees that the state will not be able to pursue policies that allow noncitizens to vote. The measure specifies who can vote in Colorado and provides additional “constitutional protections” for state elections.

The measure is supported by Colorado Citizen Voters, which is backed by a Florida-based organization founded by John Loudon, who has supported similar measures nationwide. Loudon was a Republican member of the Missouri State Legislature from 1995-2008 and an advisor to America First Policies, which supports President Donald Trump. 

Those against say: Amendment 76 is unnecessary and potentially divisive. The state already has a secure election system that ensures only those who meet legal requirements can vote. Ultimately, the measure seeks to solve a problem that does not exist, may result in voter confusion and could discourage and disenfranchise voters. 

How we’re voting: No. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Plus, a pro-Trump Florida group meddling in Colorado politics is a definite red flag (no pun intended.) 

 

4. Amendment 77, Allow Voters in Central City, Black Hawk and Cripple Creek to Expand Authorized Games and Increase Maximum Bets (citizen initiative) 

The 411: The initiative would up the ante at Colorado’s legal gaming establishments, removing the current $100 maximum bet limit and adding extra gaming options. It would also expand the current use of casino tax revenue for community colleges to improve student retention.

Limited, low-stakes gaming was legalized by voters in 1990, with single bets limited to $5 and games limited to slots, blackjack and poker. In 2008, under Amendment 50, voters approved an increase in the betting limit to $100, extended casino hours to 24/7 and added roulette and craps. 4

There is a graduated tax on casinos’ gross proceeds, with higher grossing establishments paying more. Under the 2008 provision, 78 percent of tax proceeds go to financial aid and classroom instruction at Colorado community, junior and district colleges. The rest is split between the gaming counties and cities to help address the impacts of gaming. 

Those in favor say: Amendment 77 allows residents of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek to make decisions that are best for their communities. Amendment 77 will likely increase funding for community colleges and help provide important educational and employment opportunities during the economic downturn. It will also attract more tourists – and hopefully more affluent ones – to the region.

The initiative is sponsored by former mayor of Cripple Creek Bruce Brown and former Sen. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs. Local Choice Colorado is leading the campaign to support the measure. The top donor is Caesars Entertainment.

Those against say: Removing bet limits may increase problem gambling, which can lead to a host of societal ills, from bankruptcy and crime to neglect, abuse, substance abuse and suicide. In addition, it does not set aside any of the new tax revenue to help people or other cities that may be harmed by problem gambling.

How we’re voting: Yes. While we’re not gambling people by nature, we’re all for education. And we’d be willing to bet the predictions of societal collapse due to a removal of gambling limits are grossly exaggerated.

 

The cost of smoking could go up if Prop EE passes. Besides adding about a $2 tax per pack by 2027, it would also  tax nicotine vaping products, which strangely are untaxed in Colorado. Proceeds would go to rural schools, free universal preschool and smoking/vaping education and cessation programs. 

5. Proposition EE, Tobacco and E-Cigarette Tax (legislatively referred) 

The 411: Much like Amendment 77, Prop EE is a vice tax for the greater good. The measure would incrementally increase cigarette and tobacco taxes from $0.84 per pack currently to $2.64 per pack by 2027. It would also close a loophole whereby nicotine vaping products are untaxed in Colorado. It’s estimated the measure will generate $375 million for public schools over the next three years, which will offset budget cuts from COVID-19. $90 million of that will go specifically to rural schools. The revenue would also go toward free, universal preschool; smoking and vaping education and cessation programs; and affordable housing. 

Due to TABOR, voter approval is required on EE.

Those in favor say: Colorado has one of the highest youth vaping rates in the country, while also having one of the lowest taxes on tobacco products, and no tax on vaping products. Tax increases have been shown to deter smoking and tobacco use, especially among teens and young adults.

In addition, the measure will provide needed funding for education in the wake of COVID, with additional assistance for rural districts that have been disproportionately impacted. And providing access to free preschool gives all kids the same foundation before entering kindergarten while supporting working parents. Preschool is shown to improve educational, economic and health outcomes yet half of Colorado’s 3 and 4-year-olds do not attend. 

The measure was passed along party lines, with state Dems voting in favor and most Republicans voting against. “A Brighter, Healthier Future for Colorado’s Kids” supports Prop EE.

Those against say: Increasing taxes on tobacco and nicotine will impose an additional financial burden on users, particularly low-income people. In addition, vaping is used by many as a way to quit smoking. Youth vaping should be addressed through enforcement of age restrictions, education and prevention, not by raising taxes on a product that some use as a cessation device. The higher tax could also hurt small businesses which may see a decline in sales. Lastly, the state should not depend on revenue from a tax, which is likely to decline as the increased price results in fewer products sold. 

The measure is opposed by “No on EE – A Bad Deal for Colorado.”

How we’re voting: Yes. We don’t buy the B.S. that vaping is somehow safer than smoking, and it should be taxed accordingly. And while it is unfortunate that those who are currently addicted will be bearing the brunt, if it curtails future smokers and vapers (and the associated health problems) it’s worth it. Plus, more money for education: win win. 

6. Proposition 113, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (citizen initiated)

The 411: Prop 113 would affirm the passage of Colorado SB-42, which put Colorado into the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. By entering the compact, Colorado’s nine Electoral College votes would be awarded to the winner of the national popular vote for president, as opposed to the winner of the Colorado popular vote, as is currently the case.

Colorado legislators passed the law on party lines and it was signed into law by Gov. Polis in March 2019. However, Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese and Monument Mayor Don Wilson gathered enough signatures on a referendum petition to place SB-42 to a statewide vote. 

Colorado has been carried by the winner of the nationwide popular vote in every presidential race since 2004. The compact would take effect once states representing at least 270 Electoral College votes adopt the compact. As of August, 14 states and the District of Columbia have joined, representing 187 Electoral College votes.

Those in favor say: A national popular vote for president advances the democratic principle of one person, one vote, and ensures that votes count equally. The national popular vote could also encourage candidates to campaign in a way that addresses the concerns of voters in all 50 states, and not just swing states. Five times in our country’s history, including twice in the last 20 years, a candidate has won the presidential election despite losing the popular vote. Proposition 113 is an important step toward making sure this cannot happen again.

Groups in support include Coloradans for National Popular Vote, Yes on National Popular Vote, and Conservatives for Yes on National Popular Vote. 

Those against say: Colorado should cast its electoral votes for the candidate who obtains the most votes in Colorado. The Electoral College system ensures that the minority always has a voice by allowing smaller, less populated states to have a more proportionate voice in electing the president. Furthermore, a national popular vote may encourage candidates to focus on large population centers, with smaller, regional issues losing out. This agreement would also sidestep the U.S. Constitution, relying on legal agreements between states. In addition, in close elections, determining the winner of the national popular vote could lead to recounts and litigation, delays, confusion and erosion of confidence in the electoral system.

Opposition includes: “Protect Colorado’s Vote” and “Conservatives Vote No on National Popular Vote.” 

How we’re voting: Yes. The electoral college has flunked out. One person, one vote – simple math. 

7. Proposition 114, Gray Wolf Reintroduction (citizen initiated)

The 411: After years of debate and back and forth, the gray wolf has finally made it onto the Colorado ballot. Prop 114 directs Colorado Parks and Wildlife to come up with a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves west of the Continental Divide by the end of 2023. The law will also “fairly compensate” ranchers and property owners who suffer livestock losses due to wolf predation. 

Will the wolf survive in Colorado? Prop114 seeks to answer that question.

The law would increase state spending by about $300,000 in 2021-22 and $500,000 in 2022-23 for public outreach and development of the plan. Beginning in 2023-24, spending will increase to about $800,000 for implementation. Funding will come primarily from hunting and fishing licenses and the State Legislature. Actual state spending will depend on the details of the plan and the amount of livestock losses.

Gray wolves, once abundant in the U.S. and Colorado, were mostly eradicated from the west by the 1930s due to bounty hunting, trapping and habitat degradation. The last gray wolves in Colorado were killed around 1940, and the gray wolf was listed as endangered in 1978 (except in Minnesota, where they were classified as threatened). Gray wolves were reintroduced in Idaho and Montana in 1995 and Yellowstone National Park in 1996. In 2009, the wolf was delisted in the Northern Rocky Mountains, and in March 2019, U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposed delisting the wolf across the U.S., a move that was opposed by conservationists and the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund.

Those in favor say: Reintroducing wolves in Colorado would restore an unbroken connection of protected wolf populations from Canada to Mexico. Gray wolves perform important ecological functions, such as keeping deer and elk populations in check and providing leftover prey for other scavengers. Although wolves have begun to enter that northern part of the state on their own, it is believed they would not be able to establish a permanent population on their own. Reintroduction is necessary to create a sustainable population.

Supporters include the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, associated with the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Wolf Project. The two largest donors are the Tides Center and Defenders of Wildlife.  

Those against say: Gray wolves cause conflict with humans and animals and are known to prey on livestock. Deer populations in some areas have dropped, and introducing another predator would put further pressure on these herds. In addition, wolves from neighboring states have been observed in Colorado. This suggests wolves may be establishing a presence on their own, making reintroduction unnecessary. Allowing wolves to come back naturally, rather than through an intentional program, could give Coloradans more time to adapt.

Opponents include Coloradans Protecting Wildlife and Stop the Wolf PAC. The two top donors are the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Colorado Farm Bureau. 

How we’re voting: Yes. And it’s not just because we’re dog freaks. Wolves, which were systemically and cruelly eradicated from Colorado, belong in the West. And if “restoring the balance” means fewer deer roaming our yards or out on the roads, we’re all for it. Plus, reintroductions in other states like Wyoming and Montana show that wolves and humans can co-exist – and wolves are even a boon for the tourist economy.

 8. Proposition 115, 22-Week Abortion Ban (citizen initiated)

The 411: Here we go again – another effort to pick away at a woman’s choice to decide when and if she wants to start a family. Prop 115 would ban abortions in Colorado after 22 weeks. Abortions after 22 weeks would be lawful only if a physician deems it necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman. Under the initiative, physicians performing a prohibited abortion would be subject to a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine between $500 - $5,000, and would have their medical licenses suspended for at least three years.

Colorado, as well as Alaska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, D.C., do not restrict abortions after a certain point in pregnancy. In 2000, Colorado voters rejected a measure that would have required women to be given certain information from a physician at least 24 hours in advance of an abortion. Coloradans also defeated three other measures (in 2008, ’10 and ’14) that would have defined “person” to include fetuses or unborn human beings.

Those in favor say: The measure protects viable human life by placing a reasonable restriction on abortion after an infant can survive outside the womb. The measure allows time for a pregnant woman to make a choice and permits abortion after 22 weeks when necessary to save the life of the mother. In addition, the measure takes a “balanced approach with reasonable and limited exceptions” by not penalizing women who receive prohibited abortions.

Supporters of the abortion ban include: Coalition for Women and Children, Alliance for Life, End Birthday Abortions Colorado, and Coalition to Help Moms and Save Babies.  

Those against say: Restricting access to legal abortion limits a woman’s right to bodily autonomy and interferes with the patient/doctor relationship. The choice to end a pregnancy is often a serious and difficult choice, and should be left solely up to the woman and her health care provider. The measure does not include any exceptions for risks to a woman’s health or for a woman who has been the victim of rape or incest. In addition, it provides no exceptions for the detection of a serious fetal abnormality. Every pregnancy is unique, and decisions should not be arbitrarily limited by state government. 

Opponents of the ban include: Abortion Access for All and Students Vote No on 115. The largest donor was Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

How we’re voting. No still means no. 

9. Proposition 116, Decrease Income Tax Rate from 4.63 percent to 4.55 percent (citizen initiative)

The 411: Prop 116 would decrease the state income tax rate for individuals, estates and trusts from 4.63 percent to 4.55 percent starting for the 2020 tax year. The reduction would result in state budget cuts of more than $150 million a year. Large businesses and people with incomes over half a million dollars will receive 70 percent of the benefit. Meanwhile, the average Colorado family will see a tax cut of about $37 per year. 

Those in favor say: At a time when households and businesses are struggling, Prop 116 will leave more money in taxpayers’ pockets and stimulate the economy. Even with the tax reduction, state revenue is expected to increase in the next budget year; the measure only modestly slows that rate. 

Prop 116 was sponsored by Jon Caldara, of the nonpartisan Golden-based think tank the Independence Institute, and Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. Supporters include: Energize our Economy (306 Real Fair Tax) and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity.

Those against say: Reducing state revenue will compound the impact of budget cuts already being made to education, transportation, health care and critical state services and could lead to more layoffs. Additionally, the measure will mostly benefit the state’s wealthiest taxpayers, including corporations. About 75 percent of taxpayers will receive a tax cut of less than $50 per year. Comparatively, those with incomes over $500,000, representing less than 2 percent of taxpayers, will receive more than half of the total tax savings.

Opponents include Protect Colorado’s Recovery and Great Education Colorado.

How we’re voting: No. The thought of giving the wealthiest taxpayers a break while regular folks struggle, all at the expense of education and other services, is laughable at best. Keep the $37 a year and pay some teachers with it.

 

10. Proposition 117, Require Voter Approval of Certain New Enterprises Exempt from TABOR (citizen initiative)

The 411: This one screams snoozer, but hang in there – we’re almost done. This proposition with the very long, complicated name would require voter approval on new state enterprises generating over $100 million in revenue within the first five years. 

Enterprises are described as government-owned businesses that provide goods or services for a fee or surcharge paid by individuals, as opposed to government agencies or programs that are paid for with tax dollars. Examples of Colorado enterprises include the state lottery, higher education, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, state nursing homes, Colorado Correctional Industries and the student loan program. Revenues generated by enterprises do not count toward TABOR limits, but 117 attempts to change that. 

Those in favor say: Prop 117 strengthens the role of citizens in determining the size and scope of government. TABOR requires voter approval for tax increases; this measure extends that principle to fees collected by new large government enterprises. Fees, like taxes, are paid by Coloradans, so people should have a say.

Supporters include Colorado Rising State Action, a nonprofit group dedicated to “advancing conservative principles in Colorado and holding liberals accountable.” Top donors include: Vote on Fees, Unite for Colorado and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. 4

 Those against say: Enterprises were specifically exempt from TABOR for a reason: to shift the responsibility of paying for a government-provided service from all taxpayers to only those who use them. Prop 117 could result in fewer enterprises being created, which would force the state to instead use tax revenue to pay for these services. 

Opponents include Earthworks Action Fund and Protect Colorado’s Recovery.

How we’re voting: No. As if the Koch brothers’ involvement isn’t enough to scare you away (this measure is funded entirely by out-of-state billionaires who would benefit most from it), it’s confusing, poorly written and will lead to even more cuts in education and health care. Sick and stupid is no way to go through life.

 

11. Proposition 118, Paid Medical and Family Leave (citizen initiative)

The 411: Prop 118 would establish a paid family and medical leave benefit for most Colorado workers. It would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave, allowing 2.6 million Coloradans to take time to care for themselves, a new child or an ill family member. An additional four weeks of leave would be allowed for pregnancy or childbirth complications.

Employees and employers fund the program 50/50, each contributing 0.45 percent of an employee’s wages to the fund, with the average Colorado worker contributing $3.83 per week. When workers need to take leave, they will be paid up to 90 percent of their salary during that time. Employers may optionally contribute up to 100 percent of the cost of coverage. Businesses with fewer than 10 employees are exempt from paying, but their employees will still be covered. The law would make it illegal for employers to take disciplinary or retaliatory actions against employees who request paid leave. 

The first premiums would be paid beginning in 2023, and benefits would be available starting in 2024. Eight states including California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have similar, successful programs.

Those in favor say: Paid leave has a positive impact on families, especially new parents, by decreasing infant mortality and allowing parents and children to bond. Most individuals will need to take leave to care for themselves or a loved one at some point during their careers, and this measure ensures that Coloradans will not be forced to choose between their health and their livelihood.

Paid leave also will increase employment opportunities in Colorado and benefit the state’s economy. Only 18 percent of U.S. workers currently have access to paid leave. All workers deserve paid leave, no matter their income level, the type of work they do, or the size of their employer.

Supporters include Colorado Families First and AARPCO Committee to Support Proposition 118. Top donors are the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a D.C.-based nonprofit whose mission is to “invest in social welfare start-ups to solve problems and improve lives,” and the North Fund, also a D.C.-based nonprofit advocacy group.

Those against say: This measure places a financial and regulatory burden on businesses, particularly large businesses. In addition, small businesses may be discouraged from growing in order to avoid premium costs. This measure requires workers to pay into a program that they may never use. And, if the demand for the benefit is higher than anticipated, employees will need to contribute an even larger percentage of wages in the future.

Opponents include: Not Now Colorado. The top donors were the Denver Metro Chamber and the Associated General Contractors of Colorado.

How we’re voting: Yes. In the grand scheme, it is a small amount of money for peace of mind. We only wish we had this instead of our maternity leave of five days (two of which, technically, were a weekend.)