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Publish Date: 4/11/2005

State budget fiasco elicits numerous solutions


DENVER — Have your own idea for fixing Colorado’s fiscal crisis? Want to see a few options?

No fewer than 19 possible solutions could show up on the ballot this November — a variety of choices, to be sure, but also a looming nightmare because it is unclear what happens if voters back multiple plans.

Because of conflicting rules in state law over how to handle ballot measures on the same subject, state officials and lawmakers say it could be up to the Colorado Supreme Court to write the final version of a budget fix.

“It’s not clear how to figure out the rules of the game. It could be a mess,” Deputy Secretary of State Bill Hobbs said.

In all, there are about two dozen proposed initiatives being reviewed by the State Title Board, which will decide whether the proposals conform with state law. Many deal with plans to fix the state’s budget crisis, while others would bar institutions like hospitals or clinics from using public funds to pay for abortions or the use of public money to lobby the Legislature.

Lawmakers say they are caught between the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights — considered the nation’s strictest tax-and-spending law — and Amendment 23, a constitutional provision that requires annual increases in public school spending. The combination has forced millions of dollars in cuts over the past few years and lawmakers warn that key state services are being put off.

Both parties tried and failed to come up with a plan to put on the ballot last fall when Republicans refused to do anything that would dismantle TABOR and Democrats vowed to protect Amendment 23.

This year, majority Democrats reached a compromise with some Republicans, including Gov. Bill Owens, to put a proposal on this year’s ballot.

The measure (House Bill 1194) would ask voters to allow the state to keep an estimated $3.1 billion over the next five years, money that would normally be refunded under TABOR. It also would ask voters to put up $100 million in the sixth year to pay off bonds for transportation and other projects.

Special interest groups have their own plans to fix the problem. Only a few are expected to make it on the ballot — sponsors must gather 67,829 valid voter signatures by August — but the possibility of a logjam is enough to give state lawmakers heartburn.

“I feel very strongly that our referendum is the best,” said House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, who concedes voters could have multiple choices and the whole issue could end up in court.

Lawmakers drafted their plan as a statutory change to TABOR instead of a constitutional amendment to avoid the partisan bickering that blocked last year’s attempt.

According to Hobbs, voters could approve more than one proposal.

A constitutional measure receiving more than 50 percent of the vote would trump the Legislature’s compromise if there were any conflicts.

And if two or more of the constitutional changes are approved, it would be up to the state’s high court to try to resolve any conflicts between the competing measures. If the conflicts cannot be resolved, the measure with the most votes would be declared the winner, Hobbs said.

So, what are the choices?

An initiative sponsored by the League of Women Voters would ask voters to repeal TABOR and replace it with a guarantee that the state would spend less as a percentage of the overall state economy than it did in 2000 — unless voters approve an increase. The league said it will consider pulling its proposals if lawmakers put their compromise on the ballot this year as expected.

William Miller of the Colorado Club for Growth, which seeks to limit state spending, has filed an initiative that would replace the temporary tax cut in the Legislature’s plan with a permanent cut that could only be tossed out with a statewide vote to change the constitution.

Other proposals would require voter approval every four years for any changes made to TABOR or require all legislation to increase spending to be accompanied by a measure decreasing spending by an equal amount.

Jon Caldara of the conservative Independence Institute is backing a plan that would limit any tax increases to 10 years. He also wants to ask voters to repeal the constitutional guarantee of increased spending for public schools.

Caldara said he is willing to go to court if Secretary of State Donetta Davidson refuses to put the school-funding question on the ballot this year.

• State Spending Limit Change, League of Women Voters. Constitutional amendment would require state fiscal spending to be less as a percentage of the overall state economy than it was in the fiscal year ending in 2000, unless voters approve a revenue change.

• Repeal Amendment 23, Robert Frost and Philip Mocon. Would ask voters to repeal Amendment 23, a constitutional amendment that requires the state to increase spending for public schools each year.

• Reduce Income Tax Rates, Colorado Club for Growth. Constitutional amendment would reduce the state income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 4.5 percent.

• Require Votes on Spending and Revenue Limits, Colorado Club for Growth. Would amend the constitution to require voters to vote every four years on any increase in spending or revenue.

• Issue Committee Ban, Jon Caldara and David Chandler. Would amend the constitution to bar individuals or groups from contributing more than $500 to election campaigns if they anticipate a financial reward.

• Bar Public Money for Abortions, Douglas and Amanda Campbell. Would amend the constitution to bar publicly funded clinics, emergency services or hospitals from using facilities or employees from performing or aiding abortions.

 

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