Particularly with Ballot Measures This Year
Lots of folks are focused on the end of the month primaries across the state. While those are surely important, CML has been monitoring a number of statewide ballot measures having potential impacts upon cities and towns.
Proponents circulating a change to the Colorado Constitution need a minimum of 2 percent registered elector signatures from all 35 state senate districts equaling a minimum of 98,492 registered elector signatures statewide. Those initiating a change to a state law rather than the constitution also need a minimum of 98,492 registered elector signatures; however, the signatures are not required to be gathered statewide. In the case of many proposals, paid circulators are being used.
These paid circulators generally have little clue what the details of a measure really are, and will hit you up with a catchphrase such as: “Sign here to protect your property rights.” As I have learned over many years, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. “Decline to sign” is generally my mantra this election season.
The following brief summaries outline some what CML is monitoring.
Two competing measures are circulating on transportation funding.
One proposes a $3.5 billion bond issue for certain specified Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT)-only projects. The payback on the bonds would presumably come from “reprioritizing” the state’s general fund. This is going to be a nasty fight once folks realize the cuts that must occur to generate the revenue to pay off these bonds. It is an “I can get it for you wholesale” approach to addressing a serious problem. And there is no shared revenue for cities, towns, and counties.
The other measure proposes a state sales tax rate increase for CDOT projects, a municipal-county share back through the Highway Users Tax Fund (HUTF) formula, and funding for multimodal projects. We supported a similar measure in the General Assembly in 2017, and will be taking a close look at this one. How this impacts municipal sales tax reliance is a key matter for the League; however, I feel it is pointed in the right direction.
I want to commend the legislature for its work this past session in starting to address comprehensive transportation funding for state and municipal needs. Kudos to all the lawmakers involved on both sides of the aisle.
Oil and Gas
Certain sectors of the oil and gas industry are proposing two measures and are actively circulating one of them now - they are both disingenuous and deceptive. There will be others speaking in support of these, but make no mistake about it, certain oil and gas companies are dumping big cash into these efforts, and they will come at the expense of your taxpayers.
The first measure would totally preempt state and local government oil and gas regulations. There is a challenge to this measure pending before the Colorado Supreme Court, and the League is helping to pay for the costs of the challenge. This measure is being sold as a constitutional protection of local control. Trust me, it is anything but that!
The second measure, actively being circulated by the industry through a group called “Protect Colorado” would amend the state constitution’s clause dealing with property rights by adding the words “fair market value.” Any government regulation affecting the “fair market value” of private property would be halted and the property owner compensated. This one is as bad an amendment to the constitution as TABOR was in 1992. And, much like TABOR, I know what it says, but I surely do not know what it means.
Both of these measures would be changes to the Colorado Constitution.
A group of citizens organized through “Colorado Rising” also is circulating a change to state law to establish a 2,500-foot setback. This would preempt existing memoranda of understanding (MOUs) between operators and producers. However passionate the proponents may be in their antipathy towards the oil and gas industry, this measure, with the greatest of respect, falls far short of the mark and will create numerous unanticipated problems. It is drawing the ire of extreme elements of the industry and has generated the anti-local government stealth attacks described in the measures above. It is a dangerous game of chicken, and I wish they would all go away.
There also is an initiated statute proposing to increase certain severance taxes. This may not be the right vehicle, but a review of the severance taxation structure in this state is long overdue, especially as it relates to the ad valorem property tax credit. But that is a discussion for another day.
Housing Growth Caps
Another measure would impose a growth cap via the number of building permits that can be issued annually, and cover a large portion of counties and municipalities along the Front Range. It is proposed as a change in state law and establishes some troubling preemption of home rule authority, as well as appearing to grant counties some explicit authority over municipal land use policy. If you believe in home rule, affordable housing, and good land use planning at the municipal level, then this one is not your cup of tea.
Proponents for greater funding for the state’s school finance act are circulating a constitutional change that establishes a graduated income tax, raises certain corporate taxes, earmarks this revenue to the school finance act, and freezes the Gallagher residential ratio only for schools.
It is this last point that is of particular and direct municipal interest. This freeze does not cover cities, towns, special districts, or counties and likely exacerbates the issues around Gallagher for local governments other than school districts. Frankly, I am pretty troubled by the fact that the education establishment did not engage the local government family in a broader discussion of Gallagher. It does not address that issue in a comprehensive manner and, for that reason alone, I am pretty upset with the proposal.
There may be a measure being circulated affecting local governments and their local law enforcement policies relative to immigration enforcement, with sanctions placed upon those that have certain policies. With the greatest of respect, I still do not know what a “sanctuary city” is as a matter of law, and am confused as to which cities and towns in Colorado qualify as such. I am skeptical of this one for that reason.
These measures must be submitted by 3 p.m. on Aug. 6 to the Colorado Secretary of State (except for the severance tax alteration, which must be submitted by July 7).
My problem with the statewide initiative process is that the effects on interests of cities and towns are far more negative than positive, and we are not always in control of our destiny. The devil is so very much in the details.
If you do not like signing blank checks, I would be wary of most of these - so think before you ink. Encourage your friends and colleagues to do the same.
I would love to hear how you feel.