Final Six

Good news this week. Union leaders and businessmen in Denver negotiated to shorten Colorado’s ballot. In exchange for withdrawing Amendments 53, 55, 56 and 57 from the ballot, the unions received $3 million from business interests to help fight Amendment 47, the “right-to-work” measure. While the four amendments have been withdrawn, they will still appear on the ballot and the votes will not be counted.
Amendment 58
If you’ve turned on a television in Colorado this month, you’ve undoubtedly watched something about Amendment 58, the severance tax amendment. This fight is serious, with both sides raising more than $12 million to sway Colorado voters to their side.
The proposal calls for Colorado to end a tax credit that allows oil and gas companies to deduct local property taxes from what they pay in severance taxes. Severance taxes are paid by extractive industries on minerals they remove from the ground. The current credit have allowed drillers to avoid millions of dollars in severance taxes since its passage three decades ago.
Opponents of the measure, with hefty backing from large oil companies, say the increased tax would be passed onto consumers, in terms of rate hikes for natural gas.
However, proponents say natural gas prices won’t be affected and point out that other states like New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming levy a far heavier tax and have lower rates. They also point out that the money raised by removing the credit will go to fund scholarships for students whose families make less than $100,000 a year.
I don’t think there’s any doubt that Colorado’s severance tax is too low at a time when energy companies are enjoying record revenues. I was a bit confused about why we should devote 60 percent of the tax into scholarships for families that make up to $100,000. However, by plugging money into scholarships for middle class families, Colorado will sow $321 million into its higher education institutions.
That will free up other monies in the state’s budget to spend on health and human services, roads and other needed programs.
It’s time Colorado catches up with the rest of the United States and reaps the benefits from its rich resources rather than passing those along to industry. While I’m not sure it’s a perfect fit, it’s a good start—Vote Yes on Amendment 58.
Amendment 59
Amendment 59 would commit excess state revenues after 2010 to Colorado’s education fund for use in years when the state’s economy suffers a downturn.
House speaker Andrew Romanoff is among the proponents and credited with coming up with a creative solution that starts to unravel the havoc wreaked by the “perfect storm”—the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, Amendment 23 (which guaranteed funding for K-12 education), and the Gallagher Amendment.
It does so by continuing the work started by the voter-approved Referendum C, which allowed the state to keep funds that would have normally returned to voters under TABOR restrictions for five years. Amendment 59 would make Referendum C’s reprieve permanent while simultaneously eliminating Amendment 23 restrictions that required increasing state funds be directed toward schools.
The extra funds gained through the change would be set aside for rainy days and could be used only on education.
Amendment 59 is the first step in undoing Colorado’s financial knot. I urge a Yes vote on Amendment 59.
Referendum L
Referendum L would lower the age requirement for serving in the state legislature from age 25 to 21. Proponents argue that lowering the age limit might interest more young people in state politics. Opponents say younger candidates lack the maturity and life experience to make good legislators. I say let the voters decide—Colorado citizens are great at vetting their candidates and sending good representatives to the state houses. I’m sure that will continue to be the case. Vote Yes on Referendum L.
Referendum M
Referendum M would remove a provision from the state’s constitution that historically encouraged landowners to plant trees. This was accomplished by not taxing the increased land value due to the trees for a period of time. Proponents argue that this is an outdated provision but there seems to be some confusion about whether removing it is valid. I am neutral on Referendum M, although I’ll personally vote No.
Referendum N
Referendum N is one of those housekeeping-type measures that comes up almost every election year. This one would simply remove outdated provisions in Colorado’s Constitution in regards to the sale, distribution and manufacture of alcohol. Vote Yes on Referendum N.
Referendum O
They saved the best for last.
Referendum O will make it more difficult for groups to amend Colorado’s Constitution, while making it easier to make changes to the more malleable state statute. This referendum is essential to cutting down issues we see on the ballot and keeps special interest groups out of the state constitution. I urge citizens to Vote Yes on Referendum O.
If you have time, I highly recommend checking out the Colorado Decides series on the state’s public television station at www.kbdi.org. The channel is hosting a series of debates on the amendments with both sides of each represented. It’s well worth checking out if you’re still making decisions.
Don’t forget the Crested Butte News Candidates Forum is coming up on Sunday, October 19 at the Crested Butte Center for the Arts at 7 p.m.

—Aleesha Towns

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