Club 20 hosts Moffat County Caucus at Holiday Inn |

Club 20 hosts Moffat County Caucus at Holiday Inn

Collin Smith

Tonight, Reeves Brown wants to tell you why his organization opposes all Nov. 4 Colorado ballot questions, with one exception: a constitutional amendment that makes it harder to pass constitutional amendments.

Brown is the executive director for Club 20, a nonprofit group that seeks to represent Colorado’s 20 Western Slope counties at the state Capitol.

Club 20 will hold a Moffat County Caucus meeting from 5 to 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Holiday Inn of Craig. The group will elect Moffat County representatives for the organization, Brown will give a presentation on the 14 remaining ballot questions, and anyone in the audience will have an opportunity to ask questions about anything.

The meeting is open to the public and hors d’oeuvres will be served.

“It’s an opportunity to talk about some of these issues,” Brown said. “They are going to affect everybody’s lives in the future.”

Referendum O

Club 20 supports one of 14 upcoming ballot questions, Referendum O.

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If approved, Referendum O would raise the number of signatures needed to place an amendment on the ballot and require that proponents gather at least 8 percent of their signatures from each of Colorado’s seven congressional districts.

The deadline for filing amendment petitions also would be earlier than it is now.

Referendum O makes it easier for citizens to put statutory changes on election ballots, which change law but are not as binding as a constitutional amendment. Supporters would have more time to gather signatures, and the Legislature would not be able to change a statutory initiative for the first five years without a two-thirds majority.

“Colorado has the most easily amended constitution in the country,” Reeves said of his organization’s support for Referendum O. “Because of that, every special interest group from Southern California to Massachusetts uses Colorado and its voters as their own Petri dish to test their agendas.”

Detractors have said that all Referendum O really accomplishes is to make ballot amendments more expensive for supporters to put on the ballot. Travel costs for collecting signatures in each congressional district would make it impossible for grassroots organizations to collect signatures, but could be just an inconvenience for bigger special interests.

“Well, it’s a first step,” Brown said. “It doesn’t go far enough, and we need more action. It’s the best step we’ve seen taken forward yet.”

Severance taxes part I

There are two proposed amendments coming in the general election that affect severance taxes, which are levied against companies that extract natural resources in Colorado and sell them in another state.

Amendment 52 would cap severance tax funds going to the Department of Natural Resources at 2008 levels and use surplus money to pay for transportation. The amount of severance tax dollars going to local communities for assistance grants would not change.

There are two positives, Brown said, adding that, at one time, his organization supported the measure.

One is that it would provide enough transportation funding to make a difference, which has been highlighted as the state’s top financial need.

Two, it would put the current severance tax formula into the state Constitution, thereby guaranteeing local communities would have access to half the tax dollars for their own needs instead of the state pilfering the pie, Brown said.

But the negatives outweigh the positives, he added.

“We should be taking some of these fiscal handcuffs out of the Constitution,” Brown said. “We have effectively neutered this Legislature’s ability to legislate.”

Other provisions, such as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, prohibit the state’s power to change its budget when necessary, he said. More handcuffs will make the problem worse.

It also makes Interstate 70 a priority for transportation projects. Brown said this would be a dangerous precedent to set because it would make I-70 a constitutionally mandated priority and could encourage other urban centers, such as Denver, to push their road projects as constitutional mandates.

“It starts a ball in motion that should never be moved,” he said.

Severance taxes part II

Amendment 58 is Gov. Bill Ritter’s plan to reshape the severance tax fund to provide broader support for state programs.

It eliminates an energy company’s right to deduct property tax payments from severance tax payments, which supporters say will increase revenue by about $300 million a year.

The extra revenue would go toward higher education scholarships, wildlife habitat preservation, renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, transportation projects and community drinking water and wastewater treatment grants.

Club 20’s biggest issue is that the amendment also would reduce local communities’ shares from 50 percent to 22 percent of the total revenue fund, Brown said.

Supporters think that surging energy development will grow the fund so large that actual dollars going into local communities will not change.

“That’s fine if the pie keeps growing, but severance taxes fluctuate more than anything else,” Brown said. “When that severance tax revenue goes down, as it certainly will at some point, those new pigs at the trough will be scrapping to maintain what they have. Local communities will likely have the least amount of clout when that happens.”

Right to work

Club 20 opposes Amendment 47, otherwise known as the right to work amendment, but not because it opposes the question’s values.

Amendment 47 would make it a misdemeanor for any person or group to force someone to pay money to a union or other third party as a condition of employment.

Amendment “47, in principle, is a pro-business measure and we would support that,” Brown said.

However, a deal was struck recently between the Denver business community and labor organizations that businesses would oppose Amendment 47 in return for labor organizations dismissing petitions for proposed amendments 53, 55, 56 and 57, which were dismissed last week.

Brown said the dismissed amendments would have been a “stroke of death to small businesses.”

Amendment 53 would enforce criminal penalties for executives whose companies break the law; Amendment 55 would require specific cause for firing an employee; Amendment 56 would require employers provide health insurance; and Amendment 57 would allow an injured employee to sue their employee if he or she felt the workplace was unsafe.

“Our issue was it is a much bigger priority to defeat those labor measures than to support (Amendment) 47,” Brown said.

He added labor relations are not a “huge issue” on the Western Slope. “There really isn’t a conflict with labor and business here as there is on the Front Range,” so passing a right to work amendment was not a high concern, especially since Club 20 is advocating there should be fewer amendments on the ballot.

Questions on the ballot

Amendment 46: To prohibit the state from discriminating against or providing preferential treatment for anyone on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.

Amendment 47: To prohibit an employer or group from requiring employees to pay fees to a union or other third party as a condition of employment.

Amendment 48: Defines the term “person” to include “any human being from the moment of fertilization” and grant them inalienable rights, equality of justice and due process of law.

Amendment 49: Limits what payroll deductions the government can take out of government employee wages.

Amendment 50: To allow voters in legalized gambling communities to vote on their own bet limits and hours of casino operations. Extra tax revenue from increased casino earnings would go to state community colleges.

Amendment 51: To increase the state sales tax by one-tenth of 1 percent in each of the next two years and give the state authority to spend the extra money outside mandated spending limits. An amount equal to the net revenue from the tax increase would be put in a fund to provide long-term services for people with developmental disabilities.

Amendment 52: To cap severance tax revenue given to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and use money left over to fund transportation needs, with a priority given to Interstate 70.

Amendment 54: Prohibits those who receive a government no-bid contract for more than $100,000 from donating to political parties or candidates and disqualifies a person who makes a contribution to a ballot issue election from receiving a no-bid contract related to the ballot issue.

Amendment 58: Eliminates the right for energy companies to deduct their property taxes from their severance taxes and creates new state beneficiaries for severance tax revenue.

Amendment 59: Requires that any state revenue, which would now be refunded to taxpayers because of spending limitations be put into a state education fund for preschool through 12th grade education. Repeals a requirement that the state increase public school funding each year by the rate of inflation.

Referendum L: Reduces the age requirement to serve in the state Legislature from 25 to 21.

Referendum M: Repeals language allowing the Legislature to pass laws prohibiting the inclusion of some landscaping into property valuation.

Referendum N: Repeals language concerning the prohibition of alcohol enacted after the U.S. government made alcoholic beverages illegal in 1920.

Referendum O: Increases requirements for constitutional amendments to be placed on an election ballot and eases requirements for statutory amendments.

If you go

What: Club 20 Moffat County Caucus

When: 5 to 6:30 p.m. today

Where: Holiday Inn of Craig

• There will be a presentation on upcoming ballot questions in the Nov. 4 general election, including a right to work amendment and changes to severance tax funds, which Craig and Moffat County petition for each year. The meeting is open to everyone and there will be an opportunity for questions.