By Ralph Routon
As state Rep. Bob Gardner puts it, Colorado is heading toward a "train wreck," the result of a huge, confusing state constitution that specifically requires spending increases and tax cuts.
"We can't go on like this forever," Gardner said Monday at a local forum kicking off a bipartisan, statewide tour addressing how to remodel, and someday replace, Colorado's constitution.
In planning the brown-bag forum at Penrose Library, organizers didn't know whether to plan for 20 people or closer to 100. Even the main attraction, House Speaker Andrew Romanoff of Denver, admitted the subject was less than enthralling.
As it turned out, the combination of lawmakers, activists and other interested citizens added up to about 120. They spent 90 minutes talking about ways to make the state's governing document more concise and relevant.
Romanoff is traveling to cities and being joined by state legislators from each area. The interest level and quality of feedback should directly influence what happens next.
Far down the line, Romanoff and others on both political sides in the state Legislature are hoping for a special convention to rewrite the Colorado constitution.
That procedure's various steps will take 10 years to unfold. Meanwhile, lawmakers hope to pursue interim measures, specifically making it more difficult to change the constitution.
That process has been abused to the point that the state constitution is roughly the size of the Bible, while the U.S. Constitution is about 4,500 words, or about the length of the Independent's news stories, columns and briefs (pages 8-15) this week.
The state document has been amended 47 times in 25 years.
"It's a mess not just a schematic, but more like a cookbook," Romanoff says of the state constitution.
The immediate strategy, which Romanoff outlined, is to place an item on the 2008 state ballot asking for a "one-time, very temporary, very targeted timeout" from the single-subject requirement for all amendments.
If that passes, Romanoff says, the Legislature, with citizen input, "could make some fixes" and come back in 2010 with a broad-based amendment reforming the state's fiscal policies.
At some point, voters also likely will be asked to approve a measure making it more difficult to amend the state constitution. At present, Colorado's process is the easiest in the nation.
Popular ideas voiced Monday for toughening the amending process included:
Raising the number of petition signatures needed to put an amendment on the ballot, to 10 percent of the total votes counted in the last gubernatorial race. (The current guideline is 5 percent of the total votes in the most recent secretary of state race). Based on 2006 numbers, that would more than double the required signatures, from 67,829 to 155,839.
Instead of allowing petition signatures to come from anywhere, requiring the same percentage from each congressional district. Also, anyone gathering signatures would have to be a volunteer; organizers can pay hourly wages for that service now.
Either demanding a higher margin of voter approval than a simple majority vote (some states go as high as 60 percent), or forcing amendments to be approved twice in consecutive elections.
Forcing a waiting period, perhaps of a year or more, between approval and an amendment becoming official. Another option would be a waiting period before a proposal goes to the ballot, allowing thorough analysis and revisions if needed.