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For each of the statewide ballot measures that Coloradans will see on their 2018 ballots, I'll give the name/number of the item (which is a link to the actual text) and my recommendation, followed by a brief factual discussion of the measure (which is not intended to mention every provision within a measure) and my analysis which led to my recommendation. I may offer arguments on both sides, meaning I may offer an argument for a position which I oppose, but I am not claiming that my guide is intended to be either exhaustive or "balanced."
Amendment A: YES
Purpose: The Colorado Constitution currently says "There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." Amendment A would remove everything after the first comma.
Analysis: Although I have some suspicion that there is a second shoe to drop here regarding prisoners working for little or no money, at this point the experts tell me that this measure will have no impact on the Department of Corrections. I’ll take the experts at their word that all this measure will do is remove the hypothetical possibility, as distant as it might be, that “slavery” could be possible in Colorado and - and I think this is the more reasonable point - to remove reference to slavery from our state constitution.
Amendment V: NO
Purpose: To lower the minimum age to serve in the Colorado state legislature from 25 to 21.
Analysis: There is a wide range of age requirements across the country for serving in the state legislature. Many states have a requirement that a candidate be 21 years old to serve in their lower chambers (e.g. the House) and 25 to serve in their upper chambers (typically the Senate). I like to have people with at least of a little bit of life experience after college, after becoming old enough to vote and drink, etc. Particularly with colleges filling our young people's heads full of such mindless junk these days, a few years of exposure to the real world is extremely important for someone who would have the power to implement laws which impact the lives of millions of Coloradans. For what it’s worth, former State Senator Greg Brophy, who was in leadership on the Republican side, is OK with this measure so if you value his opinion more than mine in this area, you’d vote Yes.
Amendment W: YES
Purpose: To allow county clerks to shorten the judicial retention part of ballots by asking the retention question at the top of the list of each court's judges where judges are facing retention, rather than having to repeat the entire question for each judge. In other words, the state Supreme Court would have the question, followed by the list of judges facing retention, then the state's district courts would have the question, followed by that court's list of judges facing retention, etc. This would apply to statewide and local judicial retention questions.
Analysis: Nobody will misunderstand the question he or she is facing when it comes to judicial retention if the question is asked only once per court. Let's save the ink and paper.
Amendment X: YES
Purpose: To remove the definition of "industrial hemp" from the state Constitution so that it will be defined either by federal law or by Colorado statute.
Analysis: Since this could be quite a large industry in Colorado, it is more important to pass Amendment X than you might think. Because it's so difficult to change the Constitution and because the hemp industry is in a rapidly changing regulatory environment, it makes sense to allow legislators to define "industrial hemp" as they deem necessary for the benefit of the state. This is actually a good example of something that shouldn't have been in the state Constitution to begin with.
Amendment Y: YES
Purpose: To create an independent commission for the purpose of drawing Colorado's congressional district maps every 10 years, to end the excessive politicization of that process.
Analysis: Amendment Y would create a 12-member commission composed of 4 members from the state's largest political party, 4 members from the state's second-largest party, and 4 unaffiliated members. "The commissioners will be chosen by a panel of the three most recently retired judges from the Colorado Supreme Court or Colorado Court of Appeals, no more than one of whom may be registered with any one political party and the panel's decisions must be unanimous." The process has further complexities but appears designed to minimize the ability of one political party to dominate or control the results. In my opinion, the arguments in favor of Amendment Y, including reducing partisanship in the process and increasing voter confidence that the process and its resulting maps are fair far outweigh arguments against the measure. I'd also note that in recent history, when maps were challenged in court, the result -- a map drawn by a liberal judge -- was always worse for Republicans than a neutrally-drawn map would be, a particular reason for Republicans to support this Amendment which has wide bipartisan support and no significant opposition that I'm aware of.
Amendment Z: YES
Purpose: To create an independent commission for the purpose of drawing Colorado's state legislative maps every 10 years, to end the excessive politicization of that process. This is the analog of Amendment Y but for the state legislature rather than the federal Congress.
Analysis: See the analysis of Amendment Y above.
Amendment 73 (formerly Prop 93): NO (Not just NO, but HELL NO!)
Purpose: To increase income tax rates on Coloradans earning over $150,000 (whether as individuals or married filing jointly) from 4.63% to a maximum rate of 8.25%, ostensibly to support a new "Quality Public Education Fund" and to fund specified minimum expenditures on a per-pupil basis, and for specific programs such as full-day kindergarten, preschool, gifted & talented, and English language proficiency. There would be a very small drop in the residential property tax rate (from 7.2% to 7%), a drop in the commercial property tax rate (from 29% to 24%) and an increase in the corporate income tax rate from 4.63% to 6%. Proponents claim the measure would raise $1.6 billion annually (which, of course, means that's $1.6 billion less that we keep of our own earnings.)
Analysis: Colorado is not suffering from a shortage of revenue. In the Fiscal Year 2010-2011, the state's operating budget was $19.54 billion. In FY 2018-2019 the budget is $30.63 billion, an increase of 57% in less than a decade. During that same period, the state's population rose from approximately 5.03 million people to 5.68 million people, an increase of 13 percent. That's right, the spending rose more than four times faster than the population. That wreaks of legislative and gubernatorial malpractice, and hardly suggests that the people should give government more of our hard-earned paychecks.
Furthermore, this bill would add multiple tax brackets (as noted below) to our state's flat-tax system which is one of the aspects of Colorado law that attracts business and investment. It would also add a potentially enormous marriage penalty for successful couples. Imagine a couple where one person earns $140,000 and one earns $165,000. Under Amendment 73, that couple's tax rate would go from 4.63% to 7%. Keep in mind that with the $10,000 cap on federal deductibility of the combination of state income tax and property tax, there is (properly) nowhere to hide from state income tax hikes. And that fact is causing population to leave high-tax states...which is what Colorado will instantly become if this terrible idea passes. Add an increase in the corporate tax rate which will have an additional negative effect on economic growth and employment (despite small drops in property tax rates) and you have a proposal that will raise substantially less money than proponents suggest.
This is tied with Proposition 112 as being the worst measure on the 2018 ballot in Colorado. I believe it will lose by something close to the 2-to-1 margin that the last two "for the children" tax hikes lost by, but don't take any chances; make sure you vote NO on 73. Twice if you can.
Proposed tax rates:
- $0 - $150,000 taxable income: 4.63% (same as current rate)
- $150,001 - $200,000: 5%
- $200,001 - $300,000: 6%
- $300,001 - $500,000: 7%
- $500,001 and up: 8.25%
Amendment 74 (formerly Prop 108): Leaning toward Yes, but it has some issues
Purpose: To amend the Colorado State Constitution to require the government to compensate landowners (or owners of other property) if the value of the land/property is reduced through the enactment of a state law or regulation.
Analysis: This measure is a reaction by the Colorado Farm Bureau to the terrible Proposition 112 (more on this below) which would destroy the value of mineral rights held by land owners, very often farmers who depend on mineral lease income, across energy-producing parts of the state. I support the concept of this measure: discouraging government from doing things that reduce the value of citizens' property. And it’s not unreasonable to do this in the Constitution (unlike so many other things jammed in there) though I wish the language included an effort to prevent frivolous lawsuits which will end up costing taxpayers money. As it stands, I think this measure would cause endless lawsuits in Colorado, and I’m not sure it’s worth it to pass this if we can do something better. So this one is a tough call. I'll probably vote yes, but I don't think it will pass. If I thought Proposition 112 were going to pass, I would be a very solid yes on this.
Amendment 75 (formerly Prop 173): YES
Purpose: To amend campaign contribution limits for statewide (non-federal) candidates so that if any candidate donates or loans one million dollars or more to his/her own campaign, then the campaign contribution limits would rise to five times their then-current level.
Analysis: While Amendment 75, called "Stop Buying our Elections" by its proponents, doesn't go nearly as far as I'd like, it's definitely a step in the right direction. Colorado's campaign contribution limits are ridiculously low: Combining permitted contributions for a primary election and a general election, the maximum contribution by an individual to a candidate for governor is $1,150. For the state legislature, $400. The former is the second-lowest in the nation and the latter is the lowest in the nation. This is part of the reason that so many of the candidates in the gubernatorial primaries were wealthy self-funding candidates. It is nearly impossible for a candidate of modest means to compete monetarily due to these low limits and attempting to do so, due to the sheer number of donations required, greatly diminishes the candidate's available time to campaign, meet prospective constituents, etc.
Proposition 109 (formerly Initiative 167): YES
Purpose: To require the state government to issue $3.5 billion in bonds "with the proceeds to be spent solely on road and bridge expansion, construction, maintenance and repair" on a specified list of projects across the state, and to repay the bonds out of existing state revenue sources, i.e. without raising taxes.
Analysis: Related to the analysis of Amendment 73, our state government under back-to-back Democratic governors has massively increased spending, particularly with John Hickenlooper's enormous Medicaid expansion after the passage of Obamacare, without doing what was needed to take care of our critical road and bridge infrastructure. Also related to the analysis of Amendment 73, I'm not willing to reward their mismanagement of our state's finances or, if you'll allow that they don't see it as mismanagement, their buying votes with my money with "free" health insurance. It is true that because of increases in fuel efficiency and the increasing number of electric vehicles, gas tax revenue is falling behind transportation needs. But before I will agree to giving the government more money they must demonstrate they’ve gotten their priorities straight. Which I don’t think will happen anytime soon. So as my friend and KHOW colleague Jon Caldara, the man behind this Proposition, says just Fix Our Damn Roads.
Proposition 110 (formerly Initiative 153): NO
Purpose: To authorize the Colorado Dept. of Transportation to issue up to $6 billion dollars in bonds to fund "transportation" and fund the repayment of the bonds by raising the state sales and use tax from 2.9% to 3.52% for 20 years, raising an anticipated $767 million annually from Colorado shoppers.
Analysis: As far as rewarding bad government, I oppose Proposition 110 for exactly the reasons that I support Proposition 109 while acknowledging that there are issues with gas tax revenues not keeping up with needs. But wait, there's more: Prop 110 would send 15 percent of the money it will spend on "multimodal transportation" to include mass transit and walking and bike paths. I need the roads fixed; I don't need to subsidize more Boulder-beloved bike paths at this time. Also, as with any big-government bill, it will create a bureaucracy, in this case the Transportation Revenue Anticipation Notes Citizen Oversight Committee made up of 14 members selected through a process only Rube Goldberg could love. All the usual big-spenders including big-spending Republicans such as Chamber of Commerce folks, want to take money from my wallet and put it in their wallets. No thanks. Instead, just go Fix Our Damn Roads.
NOTE: Prop 109 and 110 could theoretically both pass and both be implemented which would be quite a confusing mess.
Proposition 111 (formerly Initiative 126): NO
Purpose: To reduce the maximum allowable interest rate on short-term "payday" loans to 36% per year and bar any other fees or finance charges associated with such loans.
Analysis: The name of this measure should be "poor people are too stupid to be allowed to make their own financial decisions." The people who use payday loans have very low credit ratings (or none at all). The loans, usually less than $500, are very risky to the lender but are often the only form of credit available to the borrowers. This combination can cause these loans to have three-digit interest rates associated with them though that can be misleading because the average loan length is two weeks. Some borrowers roll a loan over repeatedly, meaning that if a loan takes months to repay it is possible that the interest payments over the term will exceed the loan amount itself even if repaid in half a year or less.
So, yes, these are expensive loans. But they are voluntary transactions among the borrowers and lenders which government should stay the heck out of. (To be clear, Colorado already regulates rates and fees on these loans; this measure would regulate them much more aggressively.) A study by the University of Washington concludes that "the supply of payday loans significantly decreases when rates are capped at 36% or less" and "Household financial security does not necessarily improve after payday lending is prohibited through rate and fee ceilings of less than 36%." Proposition 111 is a measure supported by do-gooder liberals who don't care if they hurt the poor as long as they can claim their intentions are good, and shady bankers with a history of preying on the poor.
Proposition 112 (formerly Initiative 97): NO (not just NO, but HELL NO)
Purpose: To mandate that any new oil and gas development projects, including fracking, other than those on federal lands, be at least 2,500 feet from occupied buildings (homes, schools, hospitals, etc) and any other areas that government defines as "vulnerable" which would include almost every body of water along with parks, playgrounds, open space and an essentially unlimited range of other places.
Analysis: Certainly in the running for "worst ballot measure ever in Colorado". Although Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis has come out against Proposition 112, it really is his brainchild as he has funded similar measures in the past. Often designed as being about "local control" or environmental protections, the purpose of Prop 112 is to end new oil and gas development in Colorado. It's worth noting that Democrats John Hickenlooper, our governor for a few more months, and former Senator and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar also oppose this measure which would, according to one study, cost the state 100,000 -150,000 jobs over a decade as well as loss of $26 billion in aggregate state GDP by 2030 and loss of $1 billion in state and local tax revenue annually by banning oil and gas development on land which is responsible for over 85% of all new energy development in Colorado since 2015. This Proposition is a dagger -- or more like an enormous two-handed broadsword -- aimed at the economic heart of Colorado.