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Brophy Briefs on Ballot Issues

Last Thursday, former State Senator Greg Brophy began the candidates’ forum by briefing voters on the numerous amendments and propositions appearing on the 2018 ballot. Brophy, who represented Kiowa County in the Colorado State House of Representatives from 2002 to 2005, opened his segment of the forum by saying “it’s good to be back here with all you good people”. He then launched into a summary of the XX statewide amendments and propositions to appear on the 2018 ballot, beginning with the amendments.

Amendment U refers to removing “slavery” for prisoners from the constitution. This question appeared on the 2016 ballot and was defeated, most likely due to the wording being phrased in a way that was difficult to understand. Brophy terms this amendment as “cleaning up the language”. He further stated that the prison system has no problem with the amendment, which, in his perspective, indicates the amendment is not problematic.

Per Brophy, Amendment V is very straightforward. Currently, the minimum age to serve in the state legislature, both House and Senate, is 25 years old. This amendment lowers that minimum age to 21 years old.

Amendment W allows county clerks to shorten language on the ballot for judicial retention questions. Instead of including the “boilerplate” language prior to each judge’s name, this amendment would allow county clerks to use the standard phrasing just once for all judges listed on the ballot.

Amendment X would remove the definition of “industrial hemp” from the state constitution. Currently, language in the state constitution defines “industrial hemp” as containing no more than .3% THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient which causes people to get “high”. As Brophy explains it, “A lot of people who work in the hemp industry say they can have better products for agricultural use and the CBD oil used for its anti-inflammatory and anti-seizure properties if the hemp can contain .4% to .5% THC. But,” he says, “they’re not allowed to because the definition that’s locked into our state constitution limits THC content to .3%.” Removing that definition would allow the state legislature more freedom in defining hemp.

Amendment Y and Z were unanimously passed by the state Senate, which guaranteed their placement on the ballot for voter approval.

Amendment Y sets up an independent commission to do re-districting for Congressional seats. Currently, there are 7 Congressional districts in Colorado. With completion of a census in 2020, which is estimaged to be around 6 million people, it’s anticipated that an 8th district will be added in response to the state’s population growth. Regulations require that each district have an identical number of residents, plus/minus one person.

Re-districting has the potential to be a very controversial process, made especially so by the direct, long-lasting and highly significant impact redistricting can have on partisan election results. “This is really a political process,” Brophy says, “because you can draw districts so that it’s easier to get people from one political party elected.”

The practice is drawing districts to favor one political party over another is referred to as gerrymandering and has been a topic of great interest in recent years, largely because—as stated—of its enormous impact on elections. If the amendments pass, there is a provision to have a website that will allow the public to not only provide input but submit maps for redistricting, as well.
Currently, the districts in Colorado are supposed to be drawn by the state legislature; however, in both 2001 and 2011 (the last two times census required re-districting), Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature had such strong disagreements that they were unable to finish the process. Consequently, re-districting was delegated to a district judge.

Amendment Y would establish a highly rigorous, complex process involving a commission of 12 individuals who would be responsible for drawing the new districts. Of those 12 people, 4 would be from the largest political party; 4 would be from the second largest political party, and 4 would be commissioners who had no political affiliation. Anyone interested in being on the commission would have to apply, after which 3 of the most recently retired judges (not all from the same political party) would select members for the commission. “If you look at this process,” Brophy states, “it is just about the most impartial possible way of doing the most political thing that we do by far, which is drawing districts for representation.”

Amendment X would establish the identical process for redistricting at the state level, which Brophy emphasized as being of special interest to rural communities.

Brophy briefly summarized the criteria for establishing districts as involving equal population, prohibition for “packing” by race, keeping political subdivisions intact as much as possible and honoring communities of interest as much as possible, as well. He stated that the Arkansas River Valley was obviously a community of interest. “This is a hard, hard process,” he states.

Amendment 73 allows an income tax and a property tax increase, the proceeds of which will all go into education, with the provision that the tax revenue will supplement—not replace—existing funding. This proposition freezes the assessment rate of property at its current level, which will avoid the devaluation that occurs with current taxpayer laws. It also creates a tiered income tax rate. For individuals making up to $150,000, income tax will remain at its current level of 4.63%. For people making $150,000 to $200,000, that income tax rate will increase to 5%. For people making $200,000 to $300.000, the tax rate will increase to 6%; $300,000 to $500,000 tax rate will be 7% and individuals making more than $500,000 will pay 8.25% income tax. Plus, corporate tax rate will be raised to 5%. Most of the funding will go into the existing school finance formula. Colorado ranks among the states who fund education at the lowest level.

Amendment 74, which has been endorsed by the State Farm Bureau, addresses a “regulatory take”. Using mineral rights for oil and gas as an illustration, Brophy cites an example where a property owner lives in a county that prohibits by regulation drilling for oil and gas. That regulation/prohibition removes the income the property owner could receive if the regulation did not exist. In other words, the individual still owns the land but regulation of mineral extraction diminished the value of the land by disallowing the owner to access his mineral rights. Amendment 74 states that, if regulation impacts the value of a property owner’s land, the owner should be compensated for that loss of revenue. This amendment could apply to any landowner’s potential revenue that is removed by regulation by assuring compensation.

Amendment 74 is largely opposed by municipalities who are concerned about the potential for endless lawsuits.

Amendment 75 provides for closing the “millionaire’s hole”. Colorado has one of the lowest limits for campaign contributions, currently set at $1150. However, if a candidate is spending his/her own money in a campaign at a much higher level, Amendment 75 allows for other candidates in the race to increase their campaign limit to 5 times its current level (i.e. $5750). It’s hoped that such an increase would allow candidates to raise enough money to be financially competitive with the candidate who is spending extremely large amounts of personal money on a campaign. This amendment would only apply to statewide seats at the state level.

Proposition 109, better known as “Fix Our Darn Roads”, directs the legislature to borrow $3.5 billion to complete 50 identified highway projects in Colorado with the requirement that the projects be completed—and the loan repaid—by 2025.

Argument for: the legislature has done a terrible job of prioritizing highway projects in Colorado and failure to allocate money has left the state falling further and further behind, and this will force the legislature to spend money (and pay it back).

Arguments against: the potential problems with paying back the money in years when the state’s economy is in recession.

Proposition 110 calls for a sales tax increase of .62% sales tax, thus raising the tax from 2.9% to 3.52%, the proceeds of which would be devoted to roads and transportation. Allocation of funds would be divided with 45% going to CDOT, 20% to counties, 20% to cities and 15% to intermodal. Intermodal is defined as multiple modes of transportation, such as busing and rail. Total revenue raised should be roughly $1 billion annually. It’s estimated that

Proposition 111 reduces the maximum allowance of interest on payday loans to 36% per year. Payday loans are short term loans that typically carry extremely high interest rates and are historically for people who have no other options available. Arguments for: no one should pay such a high interest rate. Arguments against: decreasing the interest rate increases the likelihood that these businesses will no longer be available for people who need the service.

Proposition 112 increases the setback for oil and gas drilling from its current distance of 500 feet from water, a sensitive area, a home or other occupied building and 1,000 feet from high occupancy buildings such as schools, health care institutions, correctional facilities and child care centers to 2500 feet. This only applies on state owned land.

Arguments for: drilling is dangerous, so the distance is necessary for safety.

Arguments against: Weld County produces 90% of Colorado’s oil and gas, and the increase would cost the state billions of dollars in tax revenue.

Brophy served in the state legislature, first as a representative and then as a state senator, from 2003 to 2015 when he ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for governor. He also served for a period of time as Chief of Staff for Congressman Ken Buck.

 

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