November 1, 1998

Counterpoint: Legislature should limit citizen ballot initiatives

On election day, Colorado citizens voted on three referenda, four constitutional amendments, and four more amendments to the Colorado Revised Statutes. Besides these State of Colorado questions, innumerable city, county, school-district and special district issues were presented to voters.

Hopefully you didn’t pick a voting line where the individual ahead of you was reading the ballot contents for the first time. If you did, the only saving grace was the 10-minute limit established by voting authorities. Perhaps next election we can vote on a citizen-initiated amendment to restrict voting time to only five minutes.

At this election, voters were asked to express opinions on two water-metering issues, two abortion questions, two pig-farming topics, a school-tuition credit, a term-limits query, whether government hospitals can enter into business partnerships, whether the City of Broomfield should become a county, and should $1 billion be spent on new roads and school buildings. Plus, the ballot still contained a constitutional question about medical use of marijuana, which had been invalidated earlier.

Many of these issues found their way to the ballot on the theory that citizen-initiated questions could overcome state legislative inertia. While in theory. such a system provides a greater citizen voice, in the real world, it provides a complex checkmate to the legislative process. The two water-metering issues were largely the craftwork of a lobbyist scorned by the Legislature. Worse — who in his or her right mind needs a constitutional amendment to mandate uniform application of laws to livestock operations because swine operators feared environmental regulation?

Such citizen-initiated amendments are often passed largely on emotion and without adequate analysis of their long-run impact. Too many voters base their decisions on a five-minute read of poorly worded explanations produced by the Legislative Council and on how many yard signs they see.

Negative consequences of citizen-passed constitutional amendments are amply illustrated by the 1982 Gallagher Amendment and the 1992 Bruce Amendment. These two amendments have effectively tied the Colorado General Assembly in knots.

Gallagher deals exclusively with property taxation, etching into the constitution a formula for assessed valuation of business and residential property. The amendment requires business property to bear 55 percent and residential property only 45 percent of the total property-tax burden, regardless of actual property value. Because of this amendment, business property currently pays three times the taxes of a comparable residential property.

Every year, the Legislature talks of tax reform. Key to any tax reform is a change in property taxation to better equalize business and residential property taxes. Because residential property owners always make up the majority of voters, this constitutional amendment will be difficult to change.

The Bruce Amendment limits growth in government expenditures to inflation and population growth. This formula does not allow for economic change. While society undergoes multidimensional change in its economic structure, governments in Colorado are limited to linear change. In today’s economic world, longitudinal progression isn’t really progress.

The best course for Colorado’s future is for the Legislature to limit citizens’ initiatives and to seek the repeal of the Gallagher and Bruce Amendments.

John Knezovich, a certified public accountant and former Fort Collins mayor, can be reached by e-mail at kwcpas@frii.com.

On election day, Colorado citizens voted on three referenda, four constitutional amendments, and four more amendments to the Colorado Revised Statutes. Besides these State of Colorado questions, innumerable city, county, school-district and special district issues were presented to voters.

Hopefully you didn’t pick a voting line where the individual ahead of you was reading the ballot contents for the first time. If you did, the only saving grace was the 10-minute limit established by voting authorities. Perhaps next election we can vote on a citizen-initiated amendment to restrict voting time to only five minutes.

At this election, voters were asked to express…

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