Perhaps it's best for Colorado's voters to have mail ballots, after all.
As if the 2016 general election weren't already important on the top of your ballot, which will be mailed to all registered active voters starting Monday, Oct. 17, the choices underneath all those contested races could have as much (if not more) impact on our everyday lives.
Thanks to Colorado's lenient standards for putting constitutional amendments before the electorate, those issues are sparking a lot of interest, not to mention crossfire debates and big-money infusions. Some feel the pendulum has swung too far, and that amending the Colorado Constitution should be more difficult than statutory revisions. Once a measure is added to the constitution, it's more permanently etched in stone. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Our belief at the Independent has always been steadfast, practically religious, that voters should feel the responsibility to educate themselves as thoroughly on the ballot issues as in the contested races for various offices at different levels.
For this election, because we've heard a lot of voters say they honestly have little idea what proposals they'll be voting for or against, we're providing our endorsements now for the ballot issues — nearly a week before the mail ballots go out. This way the Indy's readers will have sufficient time to absorb our views, do your own research as needed and make your own decisions.
The burden of self-education is as heavy for this ballot as any in recent years. Do you want the state to set another national example for cutting-edge change with ColoradoCare's all-encompassing health coverage? What about the idea of raising the minimum wage? Or making the Colorado Constitution harder to amend? Should we have a presidential primary again, and open primaries for unaffiliated voters to pick and choose?
Let's go through the measures, in the order they will appear on your ballot:
Amendment T, No Exception to Involuntary Servitude Prohibition: This measure addresses whether state prisons can force inmates to participate in work programs. The original law was written more than a century ago, actually comparing it to permitting a form of slavery. This comes from the Legislature, seeking to modernize the language and adapt more to today's world. The basic alternatives: Yes means the state could not force inmates to do work, and they could refuse without reprisal. No means inmates could be required to do work as part of their sentence, with punishment for not complying. This is needed to remove "slavery" or any such connotation from the state constitution. The current language, 140 years old, allows slavery/servitude for punishment of a crime. YES
Amendment U, Property Tax Exemptions: Almost a housekeeping measure, this proposal would mean no property taxes for "possessory interest" in government land (such as for grazing) if the land's value is $6,000 or less. It would also simplify matters for local governments, especially in less-populated areas, where the administrative costs are higher than monitoring and collecting small amounts of taxes. This also comes from the Legislature. No hidden motives here. YES
Amendment 69, ColoradoCare health care system: This headliner initiative creates the huge framework for taxing and governance to provide health care with no insurance for all state residents, with a slow phase-in period. It would be funded by billions in new tax revenues, based on an across-the-board, 10 percent tax paid by employers (6.67 percent) and employees (3.33 percent).
That's the bad news. The good news: Upon full implementation, it would end health insurance for state residents. No enrollment dates, no insurance requirement for individuals, no mandate for employers to provide health insurance choices for employees, everyone fully covered with no deductibles or copays. Seniors and military still would have to pay the taxes, even if they are on Medicare or military-related coverage, which opponents call unfair.
The whole operation would be overseen by a board of 21 people with considerable power and limited accountability. Lots of imperfections, and putting this into the Colorado Constitution would make it far more difficult to revise and improve. In fact, even if it fails (which appears likely), we would encourage supporters to come back with a revamped, improved proposal for a subsequent election, perhaps in 2018 but more likely 2020.
Business groups and many activist organizations on the left and right are fearful enough to urge A-69's defeat. We understand their deep concerns — we're a small business, too. But we think the idea of universal health care makes too much sense to dismiss it forever. Our guess is with a few changes, many employers would be glad to pay their portion in exchange for not having to worry about mandates, insurance contracts, paperwork and other hassles anymore.
We're this close to a system that works in many other countries. We want it to happen here, sooner than later. But not in this form. NO
Amendment 70, State Minimum Wage: This would raise the state minimum wage from $8.31 to $9.30 on Jan. 1, with further raises of 90 cents an hour each year until reaching $12 an hour on Jan. 1, 2020. More adjustments beyond that would be allowed, tied to cost of living.
Supporters say women and young adults would be impacted positively, because they are among the most affected by the suppressed current minimum wage. Arguments by opponents warn that small businesses would suffer, as would rural areas with a lower cost of living. Of course, many of those rural areas also have higher percentages of people living in poverty.
In our view, this is not a sudden, massive increase to $15 as proposed in other states. This makes much more sense, and we agree with those owners of small businesses who embrace the idea that it's better to pay employees even more, thus reducing turnover and the cost (in money and time) of training newcomers. YES
Amendment 71, Requirements for initiated constitutional amendments: Also called Raise the Bar. Would require 55 percent approval of constitutional amendments, but only 50 percent plus one (majority) if repealing an existing provision of the Colorado Constitution. Also would require 2 percent of registered voters in each state Senate district to sign petitions for issues to make the ballot.
This would have no impact on statutory initiatives, which still could be brought forward as they are now and approved with a simple majority of votes.
Let's start with the fact that every living former governor (Dick Lamm, Roy Romer and Bill Ritter are Democrats, Bill Owens a Republican) openly support this proposal, as do a variety of current leaders from both parties. They might have different reasons, but the main idea is making it harder for the public (many of whom don't pay attention, learn the issues and make informed judgments) to vote in sweeping changes to the constitution.
Some opponents point to the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, and the need to repeal parts if not all of it. Why make that more difficult to achieve? In reality, it won't be that easy regardless, because nobody can see a full repeal ever succeeding, and experts say it might take a handful of separate proposals to extract the most controversial parts of TABOR. That's not a good enough reason to shoot down A-71, clearly a bipartisan effort responding to citizen input.
If approving Amendment 71 means fewer constitutional issues on future ballots, that's a good thing. YES
Amendment 72, Increase in Cigarette Tax: Raising the state tax from 84 cents to $2.59 per pack, and from 40 percent to 62 percent on other tobacco products. Added revenue would go to research, rural and poor areas, veterans and mental health programs. This would put Colorado above the national average for taxing cigarettes, but other states charge even more.
We don't care that much for "sin" taxes, but it's also hard to argue with where this money would be going, especially for mental health but also to low-income people. YES
Proposition 106, Medical Aid in Dying: Allows adults living in Colorado with terminal illness and less than six months to live to go through a specific process. It requires approval from two physicians for obtaining medication, which must be self-administered. It's unclear how this would affect hospitals run by faith-based organizations that don't allow such options.
This is not legalizing suicide. The official cause of death would be the existing condition, not the final medication. It's simply an extension of patients being allowed to refuse medical means of prolonging life, as many address in living wills. They refuse treatment, and this allows terminal patients the option of hastening death instead of delaying it with no quality of life.
Opponents seem to be more focused on scare tactics regarding how this could be abused, but that hasn't been the case in Oregon, where it's been legal since 1997. YES
Proposition 107, Presidential Primary Election: Establishes a presidential primary in March of each general presidential election year. National convention delegates would be bound by the outcome.
Unaffiliated voters could vote with either major party without declaring permanent affiliation, thus remaining independent while being allowed to participate in advance of the general election. Yes, there would be a cost involved, but that should be outweighed by the greater public involvement. And the simple ballot would minimize that factor.
Given the low percentage of participation in the antiquated caucuses, and the influence other states have had on the developing presidential races in either party by their primaries, Colorado voters deserve the same opportunity.
If it means more voters choosing to be unaffiliated, so be it. That would be the fault of the parties, not the individual voters for not feeling they can embrace one side or the other. YES
Proposition 108, Party Primary Elections: This proposal allows unaffiliated voters to vote in a non-presidential June primary election for one major party, unless either party decides not to conduct an open primary, thus choosing their candidates at state/local conventions or assemblies.
Supporters are trying to improve turnout, but the bigger factor is that 37 percent of Colorado voters are already unaffiliated, and that number grows to almost 50 percent among those 40 and younger.
Currently, these voters often are shut out of determining office-holders in areas where one party dominates. Granted, Prop 108 also likely would mean more voters changing to unaffiliated, simply to give them the right to pick a primary every two years, but that's their right. YES
County Issue 1A, Rural broadband service (with Teller County): El Paso and Teller counties are hoping to work together in improving broadband internet service for the public as well as law enforcement and emergency services. Supporters say the rural areas are entitled to good internet capability at a reasonable cost. Opponents say the estimates are nowhere near what implementation would cost. This measure isn't tied to any kind of tax increase. It simply allows counties to work with providers in broadening internet and cellular service. YES
Large school districts
District 11: Two proposals, 3C for mill levy override to make improvements and reduce class sizes; 3D for mill levy increase to produce $15.5 million annually for repairs, modernization and other updates. YES on both
District 20: Mill levy (property tax) increase for new schools, additions and renovations to current schools, updating technology infrastructure. YES
District 49: Maintaining tax levy (no increase) for improving salaries, building schools and other improvements. YES
(Contested races will be covered in the Oct. 19 issue)
Amendment T, No Exception to Involuntary Servitude Prohibition: YES
Amendment U, Property Tax Exemptions: YES
Amendment 69, ColoradoCare health care system: NO
Amendment 70, State Minimum Wage: YES
Amendment 71, Requirements for initiated constitutional amendments: YES
Amendment 72, Increase in Cigarette Tax: YES
Proposition 106, Medical Aid in Dying: YES
Proposition 107, Presidential Primary Election: YES
Proposition 108, Party Primary Elections: YES
County Issue 1A, Rural Broadband service (with Teller County): YES
School District 11, mill levy override and increase, 3C and 3D: YES
School District 20, mill levy increase: YES
School District 49, maintaining tax levy: YES