Originally appeared in the Fort Collins Forum
Last time we discussed ballot issues to raise the minimum wage, establish basic legal rights for same sex couples, constitutionally ban gay marriage and legalize up to one ounce of marijuana. The remaining ballot issues are also important, but not quite as sexy, so let’s plunge right in.
Start with the local tax issues. Measure 5C will create a self-governing library Special District funded by property tax, just like almost 50 other Colorado communities have. We have a great library system in Fort Collins, used by people throughout the county. Only Fort Collins residents pay for the system. A recent letter to the editor from a mom in Wellington opposed to 5C claimed she used the library every week and it seems fine to her. Of course it seems fine to her: she’s not paying a dime for it! The county stopped paying its share to maintain the library years ago, making its budget better and the city budget worse. With library use up and funds down, services like Saturday morning hours and story-time for children have been reduced. A library district will restore services and provide stable, long-term funding so we can have the kind of library system America’s #1 city deserves. It will also finally give the fast-growing southeast side of town its long-promised branch library. If Measure 5C fails, city budget cuts will be even worse than planned.
The jail tax (Measure 1A) is a different story. It is a multi-billion dollar tax increase forever to expand the jail, just a few years after the last tax increase to expand the jail. Most inmates have mental health, drug and/or alcohol problems, and treating them at the jail is the most expensive and least effective way to deal with these underlying issues. America already locks up more people than any other nation in the world (monarchies and dictatorships included) and this proposal is more of the same, with a few nods towards alternative sentencing and drug court. The sheriff and county commissioners have to think outside the box (literally!), and defeating this proposal is the first step.
On the state level, Amendment 38 would expand the ability of citizen groups to propose changes to state and local laws. I generally favor anything that gives citizens more power, but I think this poorly written measure will make our state legislature’s job all-but-impossible. Given the hidden anti-government agenda of the measure’s sponsors, that is precisely the point.
Amendment 40 would limit the terms of Colorado’s supreme and appellate court judges. The ideologues who proposed it want to fire “liberal activist judges” who dare to issue rulings they don’t like. This measure would destroy judicial independence, blow up our system of checks and balances, and lead to hyper-partisan warfare. It is so bad even Governor Owens opposes it. You should too.
Amendment 41 would restrict lobbyist gifts to public officials (which totaled over $200,000 last year), create an independent ethics commission, and establish a cooling-off period of two years before former legislators could begin lobbying. Unlike most states, Colorado does not prohibit or restrict lobbyist gifts to public officials. With lobbying scandals engulfing Washington DC, this is our chance to help clean up our state capitol.
Referendum E would extend property tax reductions originally for senior citizens to fully disabled veterans. Referendum F would move recall deadlines from the constitution to the statutes and require recalls to be in general elections not special elections whenever possible. Referendum G would delete specified, obsolete constitutional language. Sure. Why not? You betcha.
Referendum H would reduce tax deductions to businesses hiring unauthorized immigrants. If it is illegal to hire (and exploit) foreign workers, businesses shouldn’t get a tax break for doing so. Referendum K would require our state Attorney General to sue the federal government to enforce immigration laws. Good luck with that!
Amendment 39 and Referendum J require school districts to spend at least 65 percent of their operating budgets on specific items. Spending less on overhead and more in the classroom is great in theory. Don’t you think local school boards already try to do that? Do we really need state-level one-size-fits-all micromanagement of local school boards? I think not.