The November State Ballot Could Be a Monster

Mar 13, 2018 | Economy, Elections

The November state ballot could be loaded with big issues.

The list of proposed and pending issues is long. While most will not make it through the petition process to earn a spot on the ballot, there may be one or two transportation-funding measures, an education-funding proposal and a slow-growth measure.

Funding for the state’s transportation system has long been neglected. Most Coloradans assume taking care of the state highway system is a state priority. As I speak to people about this, they are shocked to learn that basically nothing comes out of the state budget for highways.

Over the past decade, there were four years when transportation did not receive any General Fund money. The remaining years saw less than 1 percent budgeted for transportation.

When the next state revenue forecast comes out in a few weeks, it’s anticipated that there may be as much as $1.2 billion of new revenue, much of it unencumbered. In other words, no department has “dibs” on it.

The Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce and its allies through the Fix North I-25 Business Alliance, and other groups around the state, are supporting Senate Bill 001, which calls for using at least $300 million annually for transportation and using it to service $3.5 billion in transportation bonds.

While this legislative conversation is underway, there are two competing transportation ideas that may end up on the ballot:

The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce has pulled ballot titles with various levels of state sales tax increases with revenues dedicated to transportation. Though our chamber has not taken a position on any tax measure, yet, a good case can be made for new revenue for transportation.

Not so, according to a competing measure being advocated by John Caldara of the Independence Institute. He believes there is enough existing revenue. His “Fix Our Damn Roads” proposal includes the issuance of $2.5 billion or $3.5 billion in bonds and would require the Legislature to prepare a plan for repayment of the bonds from existing state resources.

A list of eight or so education-funding measures have ballot titles set. A tiered state income tax on certain individuals, trusts, estates, and corporations would raise an additional $1.7 billion annually for education. There would be some property tax reductions.

In 2013, voters rejected a tiered income tax proposal for education – Amendment 66 – by a margin of 64 percent to 36 percent.

The final proposed measure I’ll mention is one on population control. This is a statutory initiative that calls for capping new housing units in 10 Front Range counties by allowing no more than 1 percent growth of permits annually in 2019 and 2020.

These limits would remain in effect in 2021 and thereafter, unless overturned by local voters. The counties include Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson, Larimer and Weld.

Opponents note that it would make housing dramatically more expensive.

By my count, there are about two dozen ballot measures in process, so we’ll all need to strap in and pay close attention this summer and fall.

*Originally published in Opinion Section of Coloradoan March 1, 2018.