Brace yourselves, Colorado voters — one big ballot, loaded with controversial issues — awaits on Election Day.
Six proposed constitutional amendments, three propositions, and in Montrose County, a school funding measure and county broadband measure, make for a Blue Book voting guide that’s bursting at the seams.
The Montrose Daily Press is highlighting three key amendments: Amendment 69, which proposes single-payer health care; Amendment 70, which seeks to raise the minimum wage and Amendment 71, which would change the requirements for amending the state constitution.
Amendment 69: Budget-killer or past due?
Amendment 69, which proposes a single-payer health care, has drawn stiff opposition from some camps, among them, the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and the Western Slope advocacy coalition, Club 20.
“Amendment 69 must fail,” said Club 20 Executive Director Christian Reece. “That’s all there is to it.”
Proponents say, however, that the proposal is long past due, as health care bills climb. The League of Women Voters Colorado has officially endorsed Amendment 69.
“Every U.S. resident should have access to a basic level of care that includes the prevention of disease, health promotion and education, primary care, including prenatal and reproductive health, acute care, long-term care and mental health care,” Nancy Crow, president-elect of LWV-Colorado, wrote in the body’s position paper.
The league is a nonpartisan organization that educates voters, but also advocates when the body takes a position on an issue. These positions are based on study and consensus that determine whether a particular bill aligns with the league’s positions and policies.
“If so, the reasons and rationale are presented to the board and voted upon and, if passed, are advocated for,” said Nancy Ball, secretary of League of Women Voters of Montrose.
The endorsement of Amendment 69 occurred at the state-body level.
“The League of Women Voters does not normally support amendments to the (state) constitution,” Ball said.
But Amendment 69 wouldn’t be subject to the revenue-capping Taxpayers Bill of Rights, and, as a constitutional amendment, wouldn’t be subject to political pressure depending on majority party in the Legislature, Ball explained.
Not everyone favors the amendment.
“We oppose Amendment 69, strongly,” said Bob Brown, Montrose Chamber board member. “On so many levels, we’re against it.”
Amendment 69 proponents tout the measure as one that will provide everyone with health care coverage, as well as improve access to, and quality of, that care.
Under the amendment, or “ColoradoCare,” there will be no co-pays or deductibles for primary and preventative care, State Sen. Irene Aguilar, leading proponent, said during a September visit to Montrose.
ColoradoCare is to be funded by payroll taxes: 3.3 percent for employees and 6.67 percent for employers, an amount that would include workers’ compensation insurance.
On average, businesses that provide insurance are paying 13.5 percent.
The self-employed are responsible for the entire 10 percent payroll tax, but can claim state and federal tax deductions, giving them an effective contribution rate of 5.777 to 8.537 percent, Aguilar said.
The amendment wouldn’t go into effect if the state does not receive waivers for Affordable Care Act and Medicaid funds. If too few providers participate that, too, will prevent the amendment’s implementation.
While critics cast a jaundiced eye on the price tag — projected at $25 billion a year — Aguilar said the amendment will save at least $30 billion per year.
The Montrose Chamber is dubious.
“If taxes were only on the payroll, some people would be for it, but they are also going to tax the bottom line another 10 percent on businesses,” Brown said.
“We’ve heard that in some number of years, there will be a $7 billion deficit. The $25 billion is certainly not going to be enough. We don’t see anything in there, even though it’s in the rhetoric, that’s really going to lower the cost of health care.
“We need a different solution.”
The Montrose County Republican and Democratic parties had not announced positions on Amendments 69, 70 or 71 before this section’s deadline.
“We have not taken a position locally (on Amendment 69) because we have heard pros and cons,” Montrose County Democratic Party Chairwoman Jayne Bilberry said.
“I have a committee working on a position for many of these (ballot) issues,” Montrose County Republican Party Chairman Scott Riba said. “Some issues, we will be of ‘no opinion.’”
Among county commissioner candidates, support was mixed.
“Public health is a public good,” said Beatrice Lucero, who is seeking election as a Democrat to the District 3 seat. As such, it is a function of government, she indicated during a candidate forum Oct. 13.
The perception that taxes paid go into a “black hole” is incorrect, Lucero said: “We get something out of it.”
Her Republican opponent Roger Rash opposes Amendment 69, which he labeled a “bad deal” and a “job-killer.” Rash further pointed to bipartisan opposition to the measure, which includes Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The candidates for District 1 expressed concerns. Keith Caddy, a Republican, said the measure will not be good for business, and business buttresses the community. To cover the uninsured, Colorado will for now have to make do with the federal Affordable Care Act, which is heavily flawed, Caddy said.
His Democratic opponent doesn’t favor Amendment 69: Derrick Ferguson said the measure is too vague. Ideally, there would be universal health care at a national level, which would spread the costs, he said.
Amendment 70: Benefit or bust?
Workers would see an incremental pay raise under Amendment 70, which increases the minimum wage from $8.31 to $9.30 per hour in 2017.
From 2018 to 2020, the state minimum wage is to rise by 90 cents per hour until the rate of pay reaches $12 per hour.
“Minimum wage is one tool that can be used on the way to achieving equal opportunity, self-sufficiency, the reduction of poverty and a living wage, Crow said in the LWV-Colorado’s position paper.
The proposal is consistent with league positions addressing adequate food, shelter, transportation and health care; passing Amendment 70 is a big step toward ultimately establishing a living wage, the state league said.
But Brown and other opponents said the Western Slope and rural Colorado stand to lose businesses if the wage increase passes — this could effectively leave the workers Amendment 70 aims to help earning zero dollars per hour.
“It’s going to be damaging to our businesses, particularly because of our economic situation here,” Brown said.
“Retailers cannot pass on that expense. They’re going to have to swallow it, or reduce staff. Plus, it’s expensive.”
Amendment 71: Raising the bar – or snarling the process?
Is it too easy to amend the state constitution? Backers of Amendment 71 say it is — and the current process shuts out the people who live in less-populated areas.
Amendment 71 would require signatures from at least 2 percent of voters in each Colorado Senate district in order for an amendment to be placed on future ballots.
Now, if petitioners obtain a flat total of 5 percent of state voters, onto the ballot goes the proposed amendment — including Amendment 71 itself.
Amendment 71 also would require passage by a supermajority of 55 percent, rather than simple majority.
“We encourage 71,” Brown said, calling the current process ludicrous because the current process does not provide a sampling of views from across the state.
“The bar is too low right now. We know that on the Western Slope and all of rural Colorado, we’re getting short shrift. We really need (Amendment 70).”
Because the League of Women Voters-Colorado’s board supports part of the amendment, but has reservations about the geographical requirements, the body is not taking a position on Amendment 71.
Club 20 “emphatically” supports the amendment, Reece said.
The Montrose Daily Press was not made aware of opposition from local organizations.
According to the LWV’s educational pamphlet, opponents say passing Amendment 71 will make it harder to fix existing constitutional provisions and the supermajority requirement may confuse voters. Requiring signatures from 2 percent of voters within each district will make the amendment process more costly, serving to discourage grassroots efforts.
The Colorado AFL-CIO labor union federation in a statement indicated that Amendment 71 contains a poison pill in its fine print: the measure would make it easier for moneyed interests to control Colorado’s ballot process.
Brown said however that there is already outside investment in Colorado’s process. “At least they’ll have to have a broader approach,” he said.
Blue Book: Study up
Other measures on the state ballot pertain to removing the exemption that allows for unpaid prison labor; a limited exemption of possessory interests from property taxes; increasing the cigarette tax; allowing medical-assisted suicide with a number of restrictions; reinstating the presidential primaries, and allowing for open primary elections.
These measures, with pro and con statements, are fully defined in the Blue Book. The Montrose Daily Press is to publish a section of the Blue Book in Tuesday’s edition.