Colorado Amendments: Part II

This is the second editorial in a series describing Colorado’s 18 ballot initiatives. All my picks will be published at the end of the series in the October 31 issue.
Amendment 51
This amendment would change Colorado State Statute to raise the sales tax two-tenths of 1 percent over the next two years. The proceeds would be used to eliminate the state’s current wait list for programs for the developmentally disabled. Amendment 51 proposes increasing the state sales tax to 3.0 percent from 2.9 percent on July 1, 2009 and then raising it again to 3.1 percent in July 2010.
I fully support spending state money to provide sorely needed services for people living with intellectual disabilities, autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. However, these services and many other health and human service programs are desperately underfunded due to state budget constraints—constraints that were put into place by Colorado voters. It’s short-sighted to go back and start funding these programs piecemeal, when so many worthy programs are in danger of being cut. What Colorado needs is a comprehensive fix to the state budget crisis that’s still very real—even after the voter-approved Referendum C of 2005 that provided some reprieve. Instead of funding programs one at a time, it’s time to fund health and human services, education, transportation and jails.
While a “Yes” vote would go toward a good cause, I’ll vote No on Amendment 51.
Amendment 52
Amendment 52 would use a portion of state severance tax collections for highway projects. Severance taxes are collected from companies that extract nonrenewable natural resources such as coal, oil, natural gas, gold and silver in Colorado. During the last fiscal year, the companies paid $116.7 million in severance tax.
This amendment would limit the severance tax revenue that funds state natural resources projects to their current levels, plus inflation and funnel the rest of the money into highway construction and maintenance.
Of course, the state’s roads need updating to battle wear and growing congestion. However, this “new” money isn’t new at all—it’s coming directly out of other state budgets, such as the Department for Natural Resources, the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which funds renewable energy projects, and programs for low income energy assistance.
Those programs are valuable and we don’t need another budget formula directing our money. Let the state legislators do their work. Vote No on Amendment 52.
Amendment 53
As I briefly mentioned last week, Amendment 53 is a union-backed measure that would 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. However, Amendment 53 applies to managers of both businesses and non-profits. Due to its vague wording, even volunteer board members of a non-profit organization could be held criminally liable. Opponents say the measure could drive up insurance costs for business executives and chase out non-profit boards.
This amendment is not good for Colorado businesses or non-profit groups. I urge a No vote on Amendment 53.
Amendment 55
This amendment, along with 53, 56 and 57 are part of union-backed measures that were filed in response to the pro-business Amendment 47. However, business leaders are currently negotiating with the unions to withdraw these amendments. Union leaders have until Thursday, October 2 to decide. This is another example of Colorado’s ballot getting high-jacked by special interest groups and another reason for Colorado voters to make it more difficult for groups to put questions forward.
In any case, Amendment 55 is known as the “just cause” amendment and would require some business owners to provide employees with a reason when they are fired or discharged. The amendment sets forth nine “reasons” and businesses would have to cite one in order to let someone go.
While I think it’s abominable when people are fired and given no reason, I don’t believe that’s the norm here in Colorado. Most businesses don’t like to let people go because it costs money and time to train their replacements.
Proponents argue that this could help train Colorado’s workforce by providing them with the area they need to work on for their next job. I don’t buy it—a state form highlighting one of nine reasons you might have been fired is not going to help. This is an example of unneeded government intervention into business. Vote No on Amendment 55.
Amendment 56
This is another union-backed measure that would require private employers with more than 20 employees to provide health insurance or pay for insurance through a state authority that would be formed by the amendment.
There are enough holes in this amendment to cause real concern. While Colorado and the United States need to address the looming health care crisis, this slapdash amendment does not do it. It places the entire burden of providing health care in Colorado onto the shoulders of businesses, including the small family-owned businesses here in Crested Butte. This amendment has real potential to put small businesses out of business. I urge a No vote on Amendment 56.
Amendment 57
Another in the bevy of union-supported measures, Amendment 57 would require Colorado businesses with 10 or more employees to provide their employees with a “safe and healthy work environment” and would allow employees to seek damages in court outside of workers’ compensation. However, the wording of the amendment is vague with that environment ill-defined.
I don’t think it’s a secret that Colorado’s workers’ compensation laws need some serious updating with better compensation levels and more enforcement of safety standards. However, this amendment won’t work for Colorado. Vote No on Amendment 57.
On a different topic entirely, I’ve decided to step down as editor of the Crested Butte News to take on a new challenge at a private family foundation in Anchorage, Alaska. Here at the News, we’ll be making the transition slowly over the next month.
For readers and long-time town residents, our new editor will be a familiar face. Former Chronicle & Pilot and Crested Butte Weekly editor Mark Reaman will be taking up the helm. He’s a person that knows and loves this community and I’m ecstatic to have someone of his experience and integrity on board.
Of course, I’ll have more to say on this topic and politics in general in the coming weeks as we continue to get ready for November 4.
Here’s to the changing season.

—Aleesha Towns

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