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Initiative-crazed Colorado’s ballot wish list of liberal ideas

Written By | Aug 24, 2016

COLORADO SPRINGS, August 23, 2016—This fall there are likely to be more initiatives on the Colorado ballot than at any time in recent memory. Technically called “citizen initiatives,” they’re all backed by high dollar liberal groups seeking the fundamental transformation of Colorado.

Included are initiatives for single-payer healthcare, minimum wage hike, assisted suicide, a tobacco tax hike, and (ironically) a measure to limit constitutional amendments. Measures that are still being tabulated include two on primary elections and to aimed at regulating oil and gas development.

Space does not permit even a cursory analysis of all this at one go but the worst of the worst—Amendment 69—and the two legislature-initiated items – deserves a first review.

The most comprehensive ballot initiative is Amendment 69 which would create ColoradoCare, a single-payer state healthcare system. This radical proposal would not only replace the failed Colorado health insurance exchange, it would create a new, independent statewide entity to manage it and collect taxes to support it.

The initial tax would be 10% and all taxes raised by this entity would be exempt from TABOR.

Democracy trampled in Colorado

That means that Colorado state taxes, currently 4.65% would become 14.65% overnight. The board can raise that again at their whim, with no oversight.

Think you’ll be exempt because you have federal health insurance of one sort or another? Think again.

A plan like this failed in Vermont when the governor vetoed it, realizing it was unaffordable. Proponents are now bringing it to Colorado, another state with a small population where single-payer advocates hope to get it to pass with a small investment in funding.

Insurance companies are the problem. Advocates will argue that the exchanges failed not because they were a government monopoly, but because the insurance companies were involved and government didn’t have enough control.

The devil will have his due. Insurance companies are now about to pay the price for collaborating on Obamacare in 2010.

Conservatives cheering the predicted failure of the exchanges should take note, too: you’re not the only ones who could have foreseen the Obamacare implosion. This could have been the plan all along.

Citizens of Colorado may initiate legislation as either a state statute or a constitutional amendment. The Colorado General Assembly may also place measures on the ballot as legislatively referred constitutional amendments or legislatively referred state statutes.

The state assembly referred two measures to the ballot this year.

Amendment T effectively prohibits prison inmates from being forced to work for no pay while in prison. Proponents dubbed it “No slavery, no exceptions.” While it conflates prisoners’ unpaid work with slavery, what it functionally does is remove a clause from Section 26 of Article II:

“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.”

Is it wrong to force prisoners to perform unpaid labor as part of their incarceration? Liberals frame this as a civil rights issue. It passed the legislature unanimously. Democrats seek to bolster their support among the felon class and Republicans fear to oppose it and look “mean.”

The only group to contribute funds to support the measure is Together Colorado, a liberal community-organizing nonprofit that also supports Amendment 69 and the minimum wage hike. They only gave $250; no group opposes the measure.

When a judge orders “community service” as part of a sentence, is that involuntary servitude as well?

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Amendment U would grant a property tax exemption for possessory interests whose value is $6,000 or less. A “possessory interest” is the financial gain that an individual or private firm makes from leasing government land or other property. This money is typically taxed.

Whenever someone wants to create a tax break, the question is, “Who benefits?” It turns out that people like ranchers and whitewater-rafting companies hold government leases. Amendment U exempts approximately 5,100 of the 7,000 possessory interests in the state. In total, these possessory interests pay about $125,000 in property taxes annually, or about $24, on average, each.

It makes sense that Sen. Randy Baumgartner (R-8), a rancher, would support this initiative. It’s a little surprising that Rep. Ed Vigil (D-62) would have co-sponsored it in the state House. Democrats are usually scrounging for every tax dollar they can raise. (See the initiative raising cigarette taxes).

It’s not a lot of money but there are two principles involved. The first is that by giving tax breaks, some businesses are benefitting at the expense of taxpayers who are going to make up the difference. The second is that we don’t want the state legislature giving tax breaks that reduce tax receipts for local governments. That’s why this seemingly trivial issue was properly referred to the people for a vote.

It’s going to be a long ballot this year. When in doubt, vote “No.”

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Al Maurer

Al Maurer is a political scientist and founder of The Voice of Liberty. He writes on topics of limited government and individual rights.