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State and County Ballots examined, part 3

Statewide Ballot Issues 54, 58-59

by Susan Simons

    What happened to 55, 56, 57?  Amendment  55 would have required employers to show cause for firing workers.  Amendment 56 would have required state employers to provide health insurance.  Amendment 57 would have allowed workers to file lawsuits against employers in workers-comp cases.  These amendments have been dropped because business and labor agreed that they were unfriendly to business and might drive business out of the state.   They will still appear on your ballot, but the votes will not be counted.

    If approved, Amendment 54 would change the state constitution to prevent certain contractors who sell goods or services to the state from contributing to a political candidate or party while the contract is active and for two years after.  Contacts of over $100,000 dollars which were not put out for competitive bidding are the target.  The purpose is to prevent contractors from making contributions to influence policy.  A survey of a sample of state contracts suggests that about 6% of state contracts are no-bid contracts of over $100,000.  The measure would include those awarded by cities, counties, and school districts, so this amendment would impact us locally.  Since there are fewer contractors in rural communities, some contractors might not have the choice of giving money to political campaigns.

    If Amendment 58 is approved, it would change Colorado statutes to increase the severance taxes paid by oil and gas companies and other companies that extract non-renewable natural resources.  Also, this amendment would require that the increased tax monies be spent on in-state college scholarships, renewable energy projects, wildlife habitat, water treatment grants, and transportation projects in certain areas.  Also, this amendment would exempt increased tax monies from state and local spending limits.

    Right now, according to the Blue Book, Colorado has the lowest severance tax of the eight western states which are large producers.  Taking into account each state’s exemptions, deductions and credits, the Blue Book finds that “Colorado’s actual severance tax rate was 1.3%;  Montana’s rate was the highest at 6.8%.”

    Right now, state and local governments split the severance tax revenue.  The monies will be distributed differently if this amendment passes, but local governments should get about the same amount over the next four years.

    You may have been receiving flyers in the mail saying that Amendment 58 is a “tax hike”  and that “state taxes will be increased” and that it will  “push up prices ….and home heating bills.”  This amendment increases taxes paid by industry and the analysis provided in the state Blue Book states there will be “little or no increase in the costs of energy for Colorado consumers” (p. 45).

    If approved, Amendment 59 would change the state constitution to increase funding for P(Preschool)-12 Education.  It would do this without raising taxes.  First,  after 2011, it would cancel rebates to taxpayers that might occur because of TABOR state spending limits.  Those monies would instead go to the State Education Fund.  Second, the amendment cancels another constitutional amendment passed in previous years, known as Amendment 23, which requires that spending per student must increase by at least the rate of inflation each year after 2011.  Third, it creates a savings account for education within the State Education fund where 10% of current income tax revenue will be deposited each year. It can be spent by a vote of the state legislature.

    This amendment seems to resolve some contradictions and tensions in the way the state funds education and may protect funding for P-12 schools when the economy is poor.