Liddick: Beware: Colorado’s zombie amendments
September 6, 2010
With Labor Day in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to turn our attention to the next landmark in the calendar: the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, a.k.a. election day.
Perhaps its proximity to Halloween explains the presence of so many horror-show elements on the ballot, and I’m not just talking about Michael Bennet and Dan Maes. While His Appointedness and Candidate X are enough to give any thinking Colorado voter the willies, once again, it’s the “citizen input” portion of the process to which we turn for an exercise in real terror: proposed Amendments 60, 61, 62 and 101 not only prove that zombies rise from the grave in Colorado, but that sometimes, they draft legislation.
It’s a shame, too, because a couple of these proposals have the germ of a good idea. It’s just that the authors, whether their initials are DB or not, drove the train of logic right around the bend into La-La Land. Constitutional amendments should be treated like Tabasco Sauce: a couple of drops being nice does not mean a bucketful is a thousand times better.
Let’s take Amendment 60. While the provision allowing voters to “… vote on property taxes where they own real property” would prevent the sort of freeriding we see in Summit County, where the inclination is to jack up property taxes “for the children,” believing that absentee owners will foot the bill, the provision’s ambivalence could allow property owners to vote in multiple districts. Chicago, here we come …
There’s the worthwhile provision that “Extending expiring property taxes is a tax increase,” made necessary by the State Supreme Court’s decision that a measure resulting in an increase in tax revenues does not increase tax revenues. But then, there are restrictions on the authority of “Enterprises and unelected boards” to raise revenue, which seems to target homeowners’ associations, and the really big bomb requiring the state to make up revenues school districts would lose when they are required to cut in half any tax rate “not paying debt.” That amounts to about $2.1 billion out of the state’s $7+ billion dollar budget by most calculations. But since the state is essentially broke …
Amendment 61 is, to borrow a phrase from the Supreme Court, “without socially redeeming value.” Simply put, it forbids the state from borrowing any amount, for anything. “Okay, Louie. We got enough money to fill half the pothole this week. We’ll get the other half next week …”
Recommended Stories For You
It also forbids “other districts” – read: schools – from borrowing money without “November voter approval,” effectively meaning they will not be able to borrow to cover the cash-flow problems faced by entities which receive revenues twice a year. Since businesses commonly do this, perhaps we should insist on an addendum: Those who approve of this measure should never again be able to use the phrase “run government like a business.” Perhaps they should substitute “run government like a moron” instead.
Amendment 62 is a back-from-the-dead rehash of the “personhood amendment” of 2008. And while I have real qualms about abortion, legally defining a fetus as a “person” may not be the best way to approach this problem. Consider: if this amendment becomes law, will a miscarriage in the second trimester of pregnancy be investigated as a death under mysterious circumstances? What if the mother-to-be had been seen with a beer in her hand? Would the provider be an accessory to an act of negligent homicide? Remember, we’re discussing the death of a “person,” here. Cooler heads need to prevail on this.
And there’s Proposition 101, another mixed bag. It abolishes the alternative minimum tax, which is probably worthwhile. And it does away with the surcharges, taxes, “fees” and other foolishness on your telephone bill. I mean, do we really need a “Colorado High Cost Surcharge?” Isn’t phone service costly enough as it is? But then …
Reducing motor vehicle license, registration and change fees to a total of $10? Really? That’s not enough to fund DMV operations for these services, so … another draw on the already-empty general fund. Or maybe not, since Proposition 101 also calls for a reduction to income tax rates; that well would be beyond dry. Perhaps the authors think we can fund the essential operations of the state with excise or “sin” taxes, but Coloradans would have to drink like gin-mill trollops and consume enough cigarettes to give everyone in Kansas lung cancer from second-hand smoke to make that work.
So in yet another election cycle, we see the old adage about amendments to the state constitution proven true. “Kids: don’t try this at home.”