Know your vote: Part Two Amendments 51, 52, 53, 54

This is part two of the “Know Your Vote” series that focuses on the proposed amendments to the Colorado Constitution. The summaries and arguments presented both for and against the following amendments come primarily from the 2008 State Ballot Information Booklet.



The booklet provides information on the 18 statewide measures on the November 4, 2008, ballot and on the judges on the ballot for retention in your area. Detailed analysis is included in the booklet on each proposed amendment and can be found online at
Amendment 51: State Sales Tax Increase for Services for People with Developmental Disabilities
Amendment 51 proposes increasing the state sales tax from 2.9 percent to 3.0 percent on July 1, 2009 and then raising it again to 3.1 percent in July of 2010.
The money raised would be used to pay for services for people with developmental disabilities and to help eliminate the waiting lists for services. It would also prohibit the legislature from reducing the current level of state funding for services for people with developmental disabilities and exempt the new money from state spending limits.
Based on the Colorado Legislative Council website, the official argument for the amendment states that many children and adults with developmental disabilities—and the families who care for them — are at the point of crisis because they cannot get needed services. No alternative public-sector safety net exists to provide care for them. The wait time for services can last as long as ten years. Other arguments include the fact that by spending money now, the state can reduce future costs of government services. Plus, a sales tax of one penny per $5 purchase is a small investment for the large return of providing basic services and improving the quality of life for people with developmental disabilities, such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, or mental retardation.
Arguments against the measure presented in the booklet state that raising sales taxes may hurt the state’s economy and citizens. The economy is already struggling with a weak housing market and high gas and food prices. Further, raising sales taxes burdens lower- and middle-income consumers the most because it cuts into a larger share of their income.
Reducing the waiting lists could be accomplished without raising taxes by reprioritizing how the legislature spends its money and by eliminating government inefficiencies. The state government already spends about $4 billion, or about 30 percent of state and federal operating dollars, to provide health-care-related services, and this spending grows every year.
In addition, decisions about how to spend state tax dollars are best made through an open and deliberative process that considers the needs and priorities of the entire state.
Amendment 51 permanently raises taxes without any discussion about whether the measure raises an appropriate amount of money, how the new money can be spent most effectively, or how the needs of people with developmental disabilities compare with other needs in the state
For more information, go to
Amendment 52: Use of Severance Tax Revenue for Highways
This measure would require the state legislature to spend a portion of state severance tax collections for highway projects. The severance tax comes from companies that extract nonrenewable natural resources such as coal, oil, natural gas, gold and silver from the earth.
Right now, the state legislature determines how severance tax revenue is spent. Under existing statutes, it is evenly divided between local governments and state programs.
Of the half of the severance taxes spent on state programs, Amendment 52 would constitutionally limit the amount that the state legislature can spend to the prior year’s amount plus inflation (with an adjustment if severance tax collections decrease). The remaining amount of the state portion must be used to construct and maintain highways, with priority given to relieving congestion on Interstate 70.
The argument for the amendment states this is a way to ensure highway improvements without a tax increase. Amendment 52 increases funding for highways by an estimated $225 million over the next four years without raising taxes. Amendment 52 creates a permanent revenue stream for highway projects, with emphasis on congestion relief for I-70. The recent growth in oil and gas production has resulted in severance tax revenue that far exceeds the funding requirements of the state programs it has traditionally supported. The money available for state programs has grown from $8 million to over $100 million in the past few years, and is expected to continue to grow.
On the other side of the argument, Amendment 52 would divert money that would help meet Colorado’s rapidly growing water demand and maintain its aging water supply system. Half of the money shifted to highway projects under this measure would be available under current law to provide loans and grants for water projects, water conservation, and other programs. Amendment 52 does not guarantee that any new money will go to projects that relieve congestion on I-70. The money could instead replace current funding for existing projects on I-70.
Amendment 53: Criminal Accountability for Business Executives
Amendment 53 is meant to hold a business executive criminally responsible for the business’s failure to perform a duty required by law if the official knew of the duty and the business’s failure to perform it. Amendment 53 applies to an officer, director, managing partner, managing member, or sole proprietor of a for-profit business or nonprofit entity.
Proponents of the amendment say Amendment 53 addresses a gap in state law. While business entities themselves can be prosecuted, their executives can currently avoid responsibility for their businesses’ failure to follow state law. The measure helps ensure that these executives are held accountable when they know of a legal duty that their business has failed to perform. Amendment 53 could lead to additional disclosure about and charges for illegal corporate conduct. The amendment establishes a defense from prosecution for executives, which may make executives feel more secure about reporting their business’s failure to perform duties required under the law.
On the other side of the argument, opponents say Amendment 53 may negatively impact a business climate in which most businesses and their executives comply with the law. For example, the new criminal penalties could drive higher insurance costs for law-abiding executives, which may ultimately be passed along to consumers. Additionally, fear of prosecution could hinder recruitment of top business talent and may leave community leaders reluctant to serve on nonprofit boards. Plus, they will argue, state and federal laws already hold business executives accountable.
Amendment 54: Campaign Contributions from Certain Government Contractors
Amendment 54 prohibits campaign contributions by certain government contractors. The prohibition applies to contractors with a total contract value of greater than $100,000 in a single year where fewer than three bids are solicited. It also covers labor organizations that represent public employees in a collective bargaining agreement. Contracts covered by Amendment 54 are referred to in the measure as “sole source contracts” and include those awarded by the state, cities, counties, school districts, and other special districts. The measure requires the state to publish and maintain a database of every covered government contract issued at every level of government.
Proponents say that Amendment 54 promotes civic trust and government transparency. By prohibiting campaign contributions, Amendment 54 ensures that business interests, labor, and other covered government contractors do not influence policy decisions through campaign contributions. Amendment 54 furthers the efficient use of taxpayer dollars by promoting competitive bidding for government contracts.
Opponents say the broad scope of the measure could have far-reaching consequences for contractors, political candidates, and elected officials. For example, an individual holding a covered contract with one local government could be penalized for making a contribution to a candidate in a separate jurisdiction. To avoid violations and penalties, candidates and political parties will have to monitor each contribution to ensure that it is not made by a sole-source government contractor, or by the contractor on behalf of a relative.
Opponents also contend that Amendment 54 proposes an inflexible approach to government contracting. Different regions and levels of government throughout the state have varying contracting needs and access to providers of goods and services. Because rural cities and counties typically have fewer contracting options than urban communities or state government, the measure presents unique challenges for small communities and their service providers. For example, if one organization in a small community is the only available contractor for community services, the organization would have to choose between accepting a contract and participating financially in the political process.

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