Have you read the Colorado state Constitution?
If you have, you truly are a tenacious reader.
If you haven't, and you intend to do so, get out the caffeine and prepare yourself for a good night's worth of reading.
It's more than 45,000 words long, it's been amended 152 times in 131 years, and it's nine times longer than the U.S. Constitution, which has been amended 27 times in 217 years.
And, frankly, it's a mess.
What makes the Colorado Constitution so great also is what makes it such a tragedy; it is one of the easiest documents to amend, a feat that can be done by the popular vote of the state's citizens.
It gives tremendous power to the people, but it gives more power to lobbyists and their blitzes of TV campaigns than it does to the people we elect.
These election-time blitzes do not lend themselves to reasonable debate, and certainly there is no discourse about how a new amendment could affect the multitude of other amendments or the hidden effects and impacts on how our government operates.
Essentially, the current system creates a prison of laws that our elected officials have to watch over. The prisoners aren't the elected officials. The prisoners are the state's concerns, such as funding for education, transportation, health care, mental care and any other concern that should arise.
Witness TABOR - which requires future tax hikes to come up for public vote, but created a ratchet effect in the recession - combined with Amendment 23. While TABOR forces government to shrink, Amendment 23 requires education funding to increase. Then there is the Gallagher Amendment, which shields property owners from big tax increases due to rising home values, but when combined with TABOR, it causes a decrease in local tax base for local schools.
It is truly a complicated web that has been woven. And, too often, the effects of new amendments are deceiving.
So, where do we go from here?
A Denver University panel recently made recommendations on how to improve problems with the Colorado Constitution, such as:
• Citizen initiatives to go to the Legislature for votes and public hearings, where the Legislature could take a symbolic vote, or it could amend the initiative with permission of its sponsors. The sponsors could take the initiative to the ballot even if the Legislature opposed it.
• Creating a commission to review the constitution every 10 years, with members being appointed by the governor, the Legislature and the Supreme Court.
While these are fine suggestions, there are some other ideas as well, such as:
• Instead of a majority of votes by citizenry to amend the Constitution, why not make it two-thirds for an amendment? After all the U.S. Constitution requires similar numbers. A majority vote, even if it failed, would at least send a message to the Legislature that this is an issue to look at.
• And while the DU panel is recommending against a constitutional convention to look at the laws, it does not mean a convention would not be the right course of action. Perhaps it is time we start over. Look at what we want our constitution to be.
Leaving it alone is not an option. There are too many contradictions, too many issues that will become more and more problematic as conflicting amendments squeeze the lifeblood out of our state.
Do not take this the wrong way. This is not a stance against the fiscal responsibility voters have shown they want.
But at this point, leaving the gaping wound that is our constitution untreated is irresponsible for our future. The consequences of inaction are closer than you might expect. And there is no time like the current legislative session to address it.
Because at this point, the constitution is not what we want it be. It's what has developed into.
And, frankly, that is a complicated mess.