9 statewide issues on Colorado ballots

Local News | 10/19/2016 |

By Brenda Johnson Brandt

Colorado voters will see nine statewide ballot measures on the 2016 ballot for the Nov. 8 election.

Six measures are amendments to the Colorado Constitution, and the other three are propositions to amend the Colorado statutes.

On the ballot this year are:

—Amendment T — no exception to involuntary servitude prohibition.

—Amendment U — exempt certain possessory interests from property taxes.

—Amendment 69 — statewide health care system.

—Amendment 70 — state minimum wage.

—Amendment 71 — requirements for constitutional amendments.

—Amendment 72 — increase cigarette and tobacco taxes.

—Proposition 106 — access to medical aid-in-dying medication.

—Proposition 107 — presidential primary elections.

—Proposition 108 — unaffiliated voter participation in primary elections.

The nine measures are outlined. All information was taken from the 2016 State Ballot Information Booklet (Blue Book) presented by the Legislative Council of the Colorado General Assembly.

Amendment T

No Exception to Involuntary Servitude Prohibition

Amendment T proposes amending the Colorado Constitution to:

—remove language that currently allows slavery and involuntary servitude to be used as punishment for the conviction of a crime.

Argument For

This section should be updated because it represents a time in the United States when not all people were seen as human beings or treated with dignity. Removing the language reflects fundamental values of freedom and equality and makes an important symbolic statement.

Argument Against

This could result in legal uncertainty around current offender work practices in the state.

Amendment U

Exempt Certain Possessory Interests from Property Taxes

Amendment U proposes amending the Colorado Constitution to:

—beginning with tax year 2018, eliminate property taxes for individuals or businesses that use government-owned property for a private benefit worth $6,000 or less in market values.

—beginning with tax year 2019, and every two years thereafter, adjust the $6,000 exemption threshold to account for inflation.

Argument For

This reduces the administrative burden of collecting a tax that in many cases costs more to collect than it brings in to local governments.

Argument Against

This provides an unfair tax break for businesses and individuals who use government-owned land for their private financial benefit and puts a greater tax burden on others to pay for local government services.

Amendment 69

Statewide Health Care System

Amendment 69 proposes amending the Colorado Constitution to:

—establish ColoradoCare, a statewide system to finance health care services for Colorado residents.

—create new taxes on most sources of income, redirect existing state and federal health funding to pay for the services and administration of ColoradoCare, exempt ColoradoCare from constitutional limits on revenue and require approval by Colorado residents for future tax increases.

—establish a board of trustees, initially appointed and then elected, to oversee the operations of ColoradoCare.

—allow the board to terminate ColoradoCare if the waivers, exemptions and agreements from the federal government are not sufficient for its fiscally sound operation.

Arguments For

1. This creates a more equitable health care payment system that provides coverage for all Coloradans. The current health care system leaves many people uninsured or unable to access care due to insurance denials or high deductibles.

2. This amendment offers a means to control health care costs and improve patient outcomes. Under Amendment 69, health care costs could be controlled by lowering administrative costs, adjusting payment rates to health care providers and reducing the amount of unpaid care provided by health care providers.

3. ColoradoCare provides a more transparent system that serves the interests of Coloradans, instead of the interests of private corporations. The current private health insurance system is profit-motivated, which contributes to rising health care costs. ColoradoCare offers an alternative that shifts incentives toward improving patient care by allowing Coloradans to elect health care decision-makers.

Arguments Against

1. This amendment imposes new taxes which may harm the Colorado economy by burdening taxpayers and eliminating jobs. The tax increases under this measure will nearly double state government spending. ColoradoCare may cause private health insurance businesses to downsize or leave the state, leaving many people unemployed.

2. This amendment offers no guarantee that ColoradoCare will improve patient care, expand access or reduce health care costs. Coloradans may never receive the benefits promised under ColoradoCare if federal approval is not granted or revenues are not sufficient. The measure does not specify critical details of how ColoradoCare will be implemented and has no required implementation date.

3. ColoradoCare may limit consumer choice and strain the health care system. Health care providers may be unwilling to serve ColoradoCare patients if reimbursements are too low, or they may choose to leave Colorado due to uncertainties in the health care market. The health care system could be further burdened by people coming to the state to receive health care without adequately contributing to the taxes that pay for their care.

Amendment 70

State Minimum Wage

Amendment 70 proposes amending the Colorado Constitution to:

—increase the state minimum wage from $8.31 to $9.30 per hour beginning Jan. 1, 2017.

—increase the minimum wage annually by 90 cents per hour beginning Jan. 1, 2018, until it reaches $12 per hour Jan. 1, 2020.

—on Jan. 1, 2021, and thereafter, adjust the minimum wage each year based on cost-of-living increases.

Arguments For

1. Colorado’s current minimum wage is too low to provide a basic standard of living for some workers. While the minimum wage has increased only 21 percent since 2007 (when the last voter-approved increase in the minimum wage went into effect), prices for basic necessities such as health care and housing have increased more steeply.

2. Raising the minimum wage may help businesses. Higher wages may improve employee productivity and morale, and reduce turnover.

Arguments Against

1. Increasing the state minimum wage may actually hurt the very employees that the higher wage is meant to help. If Amendment 70 passes, some workers earning the minimum wage may face layoffs, reduced hours or fewer benefits. And businesses may choose to raise prices.

2. Increasing the state minimum wage may hurt small and family-owned businesses, particularly in rural communities where the cost of living is lower and economic recovery has been slow compared with urban areas.

Amendment 71

Requirements for Constitutional Amendments

Amendment 71 proposes amending the Colorado Constitution to:

—require that a certain number of signatures be gathered from each state senate district to place a constitutional initiative on the ballot.

—increase the percentage of votes required to adopt a constitutional amendment, except for proposals that only repeal part of the state constitution.

Arguments For

1. It should be difficult to change the constitution because it is a foundational document for the state. Because the current requirements for proposing and adopting constitutional and statutory amendments are the same, the constitution has seen the addition of detailed provisions that cannot be changed without an election. Amendment 71 is expected to encourage citizen-initiated changes to law in statute by making it harder to amend the constitution.

2. Requiring that signatures for constitutional initiatives be gathered from each state senate district ensures that citizens from across the state have a say in which measures are placed on the ballot. Due to the relative ease of collecting signatures in heavily populated urban areas compared to sparsely populated rural areas, rural citizens currently have a limited voice in determining which issues appear on the ballot.

Arguments Against

1. Amendment 71 makes it too difficult for citizens to exercise their right to initiate constitutional changes. Sometimes the will of the people or issues of broad public interest are not adequately addressed by the political process. While statutory changes may be amended or repealed without the approval of the voters, the power to amend the Colorado constitution lies solely with its citizens.

2. Requiring proponents to collect signatures statewide for proposed constitutional changes makes the process of placing an amendment on the ballot even more difficult and costly. Amendment 71 unduly restricts ballot access for average Coloradans, leaving an important democratic tool accessible only to those able to bear the higher costs associated with a complicated signature-gathering process.

Amendment 72

Increase Cigarette and Tobacco Taxes

Amendment 72 proposes amending the Colorado Constitution to:

—increase the state tax on a pack of cigarettes from 84 cents to $2.59.

—increase the state tax on other tobacco products from 40 percent to 62 percent of the price.

—distribute the new tax money for medical research, tobacco-use prevention, doctors and clinics in rural or low-income areas, veterans’ services and other health-related programs.

Arguments For

1. Higher prices for cigarettes and tobacco products have been shown to deter smoking and tobacco use, especially among children and young adults. Tobacco use is a leading cause of preventable diseases like cancer, and heart and lung disease, contributing to 5,100 deaths in Colorado per year. Reducing smoking and tobacco use will improve the health of Colorado residents.

2. Dedicating cigarette and tobacco tax revenue to health care and research is an important way to offset the health care burden and cost tobacco use places on the state. Tobacco use increases direct health care costs in Colorado by an estimated $1.9 billion annually, with additional health care costs related to secondhand smoke.

Arguments Against

1. Amendment 72 is a $315.7 million tax increase. The measure creates a constitutional requirement that revenue from the new taxes be spent on specific programs, even if these programs are ineffective at reducing the cost of tobacco use. Unless voters approve another constitutional change, the spending priorities in the measure will receive taxpayer funding indefinitely.

2. Tripling the tax on cigarettes impacts low-income tobacco users the most. Recent studies have shown that people with lower incomes are more likely to use tobacco products and less able to afford a tax increase. Low-income tobacco users who are unable to quit will subsidize programs that benefit non-tobacco users, taking money out of already tight household budgets.

Proposition 106

Access to Medical Aid-in-Dying Medication

Proposition 106 proposes amending the Colorado statutes to:

—allow a terminally ill individual with a prognosis of six months or less to live to request and self-administer medical aid-in-dying medication in order to voluntarily end his or her life.

—authorize a physician to prescribe medical aid-in-dying medication to a terminally ill individual under certain conditions.

—create criminal penalties for tampering with a person’s request for medical aid-in-dying medication or knowingly coercing a person with a terminal illness to request the medication.

Arguments For

1. Proposition 106 expands the options and supports available to a terminally ill person in the last stage of life. The measure allows a mentally competent individual to peacefully end his or her life in the time, place and environment of his or her choosing after voluntarily requesting and self-administering the medication. Proposition 106 also provides protections from criminal penalties for physicians and family members who choose to support a terminally ill individual through the dying process.

2. Proposition 106 seeks to balance the choice of a terminally ill person to voluntarily end his or her life with the state’s interest in promoting public safety. It establishes safeguards by creating criminal penalties and ensuring that an individual’s physician, family members and heirs are not the only witnesses to requests for medication.

3. Access to medical aid-in-dying may provide a sense of comfort to a terminally ill person by authorizing medication as insurance against suffering and the potential loss of dignity and autonomy. Proposition 106 is similar to options available in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana and California. Once the medication is requested, it is up to the individual to decide when and if to take it.

Arguments Against

1. Encouraging the use of lethal medication by terminally ill people may send the message that some lives are not worth living to their natural conclusion. People who are in the final stages of life are often in fear of the dying process. The availability of medical aid-in-dying may encourage people to make drastic decisions based on concerns about the potential loss of autonomy and dignity, not realizing that modern palliative and hospice care may effectively address these concerns.

2. Proposition 106 creates opportunities for abuse and fraud. The protections in the measure do not go far enough to shield vulnerable people from family members and others who may benefit from their premature death. Proposition 106 fails to ensure that the lethal medication will be stored in a safe location, potentially placing others at risk or leading to its misuse.

3. Proposition 106 may force physicians to choose between medical ethics and a request to die from a person for whom they feel compassion. The measure compromises a physician’s judgment by asking him or her to verify that an individual has a prognosis of six months or less to live, yet fails to recognize that diagnoses can be wrong and prognoses are estimates, not guarantees. The measure also requires that the physician or hospice director list the terminal illness or condition on the death certificate, which requires these professionals to misrepresent the cause of death.

Proposition 107

Presidential Primary Elections

Proposition 107 proposes amending the Colorado statutes to:

—establish a presidential primary election in Colorado that allows participation by unaffiliated voters.

Arguments For

1. A presidential primary serves Colorado voters better than the caucus system. Caucuses can be crowded, held at inconvenient times and conducted by inexperienced volunteers. A presidential primary election eliminates the logistical difficulties of conducting caucuses.

2. All registered voters in Colorado should be allowed to participate in the selection of presidential nominees, even if they are not affiliated with a political party. Proposition 107 gives unaffiliated voters a role in selecting presidential nominees and may increase voter participation.

3. Proposition 107 protects voter confidentiality by allowing voters to select presidential primary candidates using a secret ballot. The current caucus system requires voters to publicly declare their candidate preference, which can discourage participation by many voters who do not wish to make their preference known.

Arguments Against

1. Proposition 107 uses a combined ballot system for unaffiliated voters that will likely result in some unaffiliated voter ballots not being counted, could change the primary election winners and would raise costs for taxpayers. On a combined ballot, unaffiliated voters must vote for only one party’s candidate. People who vote for candidates in both parties will have their ballot disqualified, and their ballots will not be counted. This can change election results and may result in contested elections and litigation.

2. Proposition 107 shifts costs to taxpayers, as the state and counties will be required to spend at least $5 million every four years to conduct a presidential primary election. Under a caucus system, taxpayers save money because caucuses are conducted and funded by the political parties. Taxpayers should not be required to pay the costs of nominating contests for political parties.

3. Under current law, unaffiliated voters who wish to participate at a caucus can declare their party affiliation ahead of time and attend.

Proposition 108

Unaffiliated Voter Participation in Primary Elections 

Proposition 108 proposes amending the Colorado statutes to:

—change the primary election process in Colorado to allow unaffiliated voters to vote in a nonpresidential primary election of a single political party.

—allow political parties to opt out of holding a primary election and instead choose to nominate candidates by assembly or convention.

Arguments For

1. Proposition 108 gives unaffiliated voters, who are Colorado taxpayers, the opportunity to vote in publicly financed primary elections. It gives unaffiliated voters a role in selecting candidates for the general election and make voting in primary elections easier and more accessible for these voters.

2. Allowing unaffiliated voters to participate in primary elections may result in candidates who better represent all Coloradans. In a closed primary, voter participation is typically low and the candidates selected often appeal to a small number of their party’s more active members.

Arguments Against

1. Proposition 108 uses a combined ballot system for unaffiliated voters that will likely result in about 7 percent of unaffiliated voter ballots not being counted, which could change election winners and would raise costs for taxpayers. Producing and processing a separate combined ballot only for unaffiliated voters creates administrative and financial burdens for counties, especially smaller or rural counties.

2. Colorado law already allows unaffiliated voters who wish to vote in a political party’s primary election to easily change their party affiliation at any point during the election, up to and including election day. Political parties are membership organizations that have the right to select their own candidates without influence from people who choose not to affiliate with the party.