The Alternative Voterís Guide

The Legislative Councilís ballot-analysis booklet has inspired so many fights, it should be called the black-and-blue book. Hereís our cure.

With November 2 less than two weeks off, you can't turn on the TV without sustaining collateral damage from one attack ad or another. But the biggest danger to your safety may be those innocuous-looking booklets you've already gotten in the mail, describing the issues that will be on the ballot -- among them six proposed statewide amendments and two major metro-Denver referendums. Approximately 1.6 million of the ballot-analysis booklets published by the Colorado General Assembly's Legislative Council were mailed out at the end of September -- but even before that, the lawsuits were flying, decrying such sins as tobacco interests providing the wording for the arguments against Amendment 35. And for the metro guide, pro-FasTracks folks oddly offered both pro and con arguments for 4A.

What's long been known as the "blue book" might as well be called the black-and-blue book this round, given the knock-down battles that are sure to drag on long after the panic-stricken polling places close that first Tuesday in November. So in the interest of fair play -- and saving eyes from the strain of poring over all that tiny type -- we offer:

The Alternative Voter’s Guide

Referendum 4A: FasTracks
What the hell would it do?

Give us light-rail service to Denver International Airport -- which has to be worth at least a quarter of the $4.7 billion that's the estimated cost of FasTracks. The rest of the money would buy five more light-rail lines, 119 miles in all, going everywhere from Boulder to Longmont to Aurora to the Taj Mahal in Jefferson County, plus additional commuter-bus service. Of course, even if construction is completed on time (which is highly unlikely), it'll be twelve years before the massive project is finished -- twelve more years of construction hell. But maybe, just maybe, by 2016, people will be able to get around the metro area without a car. Or get home after a night of serious drinking without worrying about driving. (Heck, by then, Denver may even have stopped ticketing cars parked downtown after 2 a.m.)

To pay for FasTracks, the Regional Transportation District sales tax collected in the six metro counties would jump to a full penny on the dollar, from the current six-tenths. That's another four cents for every ten dollars spent on all taxable goods except groceries, gasoline, prescription drugs, and heating fuels and electricity. Sure, with the extra cash that tax would collect, RTD could pretty much buy a new car for every Denver-area family, as the Independence Institute has suggested -- but considering the number of oblivious drivers already on the road, we'd rather catch the train.

Who's behind it?

FasTracks Yes!

War chest: $2,619,715.60, plus $600,000 in loans from philanthropist Tim Gill and the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation. (All war-chest figures are cash donations as of September 29, 2004, the last reporting date for campaign-finance statements -- but the money's still coming in quickly.)

Big donors: Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, First Data Corporation, HealthONE, MDC Holdings.

Noteworthy supporters: Mayor John Hickenlooper and thirty other area mayors who joined hands for the cameras last week; former Denver mayor Wellington Webb; E. Stanley Kroenke.

Who wants it dead?

Taxpayers Against Congestion.

War chest: $14,486.

Big donors: Bill collector Brad Becker of Louisville, petroleum engineer Cortlandt Dietler of Denver, Robert Blackwell of Morrison.

Noteworthy opponents: Governor Bill Owens; the Independence Institute (which donated $110 and Jon Caldara's mouth); state senator Ron May, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

Fun facts:

• Denver had electric trolleys from 1940 until 1955, when they were replaced by diesel buses.

• Colorado Department of Transportation executive director Tom Norton came out against FasTracks, claiming that it would cost $4.3 billion to coordinate the light-rail lines with existing and planned highway projects over the next twenty years; in reality, expanding light rail would necessitate just two CDOT fixes, totaling $38 million, both already fully funded.

Best campaign snafu (so far):

Caldara and other opponents sued over the wording in the voter's guide, pointing out that intentionally ridiculous "con" comments were provided by Rebecca Barnes, deputy campaign manager of FasTracks Yes! One choice example: "FasTracks will waste your money. The average cost of getting someone out of their car for one FasTracks Ride is $24. Limousine rides cost less."

Guide to decide:

• If you drink Starbucks, vote yes.

• If you drink truck-stop coffee, vote no.

• If you like old country music, vote yes.

• If you like new country music, vote no.

• If you moved here from California, vote yes: You owe us that much.

• If you moved here from Texas, vote no: You're incapable of anything else.

• If you live in Boulder, vote yes. For your own safety.

• If you like sitting in Highway 36 traffic, vote no. You'll have more time to listen to new country -- or to Jon Caldara on talk radio.

If we were betting types:

Westword: 2-1 in favor of 4A passing, unless Governor Owens was responsible for registering and paying off those 6,000 felons.

Tony Robinson, political science professor, University of Colorado at Denver: 5-1 in favor.

Jennifer Garner, president, Garner Insight: 3-1 in favor. "Have you seen those great ads with Mayor Hickenlooper? Doesn't he remind you of Jesus? I mean, if Jesus is for it, how could you be against?"

Referendum 4B: Renew Scientific and Cultural Facilities District Tax
What the hell would it do?

Continue support for free Saturdays at the Denver Art Museum, Museo de las Américas, Curious Theatre Company, the children's gardens at the Urban Farm and many other worthy ventures. Over the past sixteen years, more than 300 arts organizations across the metro area have received funding through the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District tax. Passage of 4B would reauthorize the SCFD's .1 percent tax on retail sales for another twelve years. That's one penny for every $10 spent. A dime on a hundred-dollar pair of pants.

Yes, there have been some concerns about how the money -- nearly $35 million some years -- has been parceled out. The lion's share, 59 percent, has gone to the "Big Four" -- the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Denver Zoo, the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Botanic Gardens -- while a second tier of 23 medium-sized organizations have split 28 percent according to their budgets, and 280 smaller groups, like the Denver Brass and the LIDA Project, have fought for the remains. These allocations would change slightly under 4B, because the Denver Center for the Performing Arts would jump into the top tier.

The notion of the SCFD, the most comprehensive cultural support program of its kind in the country, was devised in the mid-'80s, when Colorado's economy was foundering and the Colorado Legislature hacked $2 million in arts funding. Voters approved the idea in 1988 and again in 1994. Imagine the current arts scene in this foundering economy if they hadn't.

Who's behind it?

Citizens for Arts to Zoo.

War chest: $1,500,290.06.

Big donors: Denver Zoo, Denver Art Museum, Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Museum of Nature & Science and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (not from SCFD funds, however).

Noteworthy supporters: Mayor John Hickenlooper and legislators Norma Anderson and Shawn Mitchell, both Republicans.

Who wants it dead?

No official opposition group has filed with the secretary of state's office. The Independence Institute has come out against 4B, but that think tank is against just about everything but guns and booze -- preferably together. Also opposed is the Colorado Union of Taxpayers, whose president, former state representative Penn Pfiffner, is a senior fellow with the Independence Institute.

War chest: $0.

Fun facts:

• The "Big Five" arts organizations donated $1,078,577, or 72 percent, of total contributions. If 4B passes, this top tier will receive 65.5 percent of the tax revenue generated. Talk about a return on your investment!

• The SCFD polar-bear mascot has a name: Popsicle.

Best campaign snafu:

A pro-4B TV spot allegedly featuring Claude Monet's "Waterloo Bridge" at the Denver Art Museum in reality includes neither the museum nor "Waterloo Bridge." The campaign used a $500 reproduction -- on loan from the DAM -- and an unused gallery in the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to shoot the commercial. (At least the DAM actually owns "Waterloo Bridge.")

Guide to decide:

• If you think Extreme Makeover is "cultural enrichment," vote no.

• If you think Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is "cultural enrichment," vote yes.

• If you drink lattes, vote yes.

• If you drink Mountain Dew for breakfast, vote no.

• If you remember Laser Floyd, vote yes.

• If you've ever tripped A in the Botanic Gardens, vote yes.

• If you couldn't wait for Klondike and Snow to leave, vote no.

• If you can name any zoo babies born in the last year, vote yes.

If we were betting types:

WW: 34-1 in favor; 26-1 if none of the animals gets to register.

TR: 50-1 in favor.

JG: 4-1 in favor. "Remember Klondike and Snow? Enough said."

Amendment 34: Construction Liability
What the hell would it do?

Undo portions of House Bill 1161, which the state legislature passed last year as a way to stop those pesky juries from offering "outrageous" settlements -- in this case, from suing a homebuilder who, say, failed to mention that the foundation of your new home would likely buckle because it was built on unstable soil. By reining in jury awards, supporters like construction-firm-owning representative Greg Rippy said, the measure would reduce a contractor's liability insurance cost, so that no more small businesses would be forced to close. (Doing quality work would also help ensure that they stayed in business.)

As approved by the legislature, HB 1161 specifically limited the amount homeowners could win in lawsuits claiming poor craftsmanship. It also capped the amount of a pain-and-suffering award in personal-injury cases -- for example, compensation for breaking your neck after you fall through the floor because the joists are faulty -- at $250,000 and prohibited treble damages unless a homeowner could prove that the builder acted fraudulently or in bad faith, and even then those damages were capped at $250,000. (By the way, the Colorado Consumer Protection Act already mandates that treble damages may be levied only when fraud is proven -- and when HB 1161 was introduced, no such damages had been awarded against a builder in at least five years.) Finally, the bill required a homeowner to notify his builder about any problems -- called a "punch list" in the industry -- and then give the builder the opportunity to repair those problems before the homeowner sued.

After HB 1161 passed, its opponents came up with the language for Amendment 34, which would overturn any limits on what homeowners can recover in cases of bad workmanship or injury. The amendment also would limit the ability of the legislature to create future caps regarding construction issues and eliminate the requirement that homeowners give builders the chance to fix any mistakes before they sue them. (In other words, it would codify into law the widespread concept that while Coloradans are nice, they'd much rather backstab than openly confront.)

Who's behind it?

Committee to Take Back Our Property Rights.

War chest: $398,160.

Big donors:Vanatta, Sullan, Sandgrund & Sullan.

Noteworthy supporters: Longtime lobbyist and former Greenwood Village mayor Freda Poundstone; big-shot attorney Scott Sullan, who collects the bulk of his hefty income from representing homeowners in class-action lawsuits against builders.

Who wants it dead?

Coloradans for Responsible Reform 2004.

War chest: $2,571,125.

Big donors: National Association of Home Builders; MDC Holdings, parent company of Richmond American Homes; Melody Homes; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Noteworthy opponents: Mike Rosen; Jim Vetting, president of the Greeley-area Habitat for Humanity.

Fun facts:

• In June 1996, Richmond American Homes gave Sullan's firm $1.9 million to settle a class-action lawsuit.

• Poundstone has successfully pushed two constitutional amendments through in Colorado, including the measure that opened up three old mining towns to "limited stakes" gaming, and 1974's initiative that prohibits Denver from annexing any portion of a neighboring county unless the voters of that county give their approval. Thanks to the Poundstone Amendment, Denver is now an island unto itself.

Congressman Tom Tancredo, who is running for re-election in District 6, entered a tribute to Poundstone into the Congressional Record on July 22, citing her "dedicated and inspiring career." Tancredo does not support Amendment 34.

Best campaign snafu:

Tit-for-tat filings with the secretary of state's office for campaign-finance violations.

Guide to decide:

• If you hear the word "nail" and think of a sexual act, vote yes.

• If you hear the word "nail" and think hammer, vote no.

• If you live in Lowry, Stapleton, the Elitch Gardens development, Highlands Ranch or just about any new housing project sprawling out onto the plains, vote yes. Just in case.

• If you built Lowry, Stapleton, the Elitch Gardens development, Highlands Ranch or just about any new housing project sprawling out onto the plains, vote no. And say a prayer.

• If you like trial lawyers, vote yes. Their kids have to eat, too.

• If you think Colorado's new tort-based auto insurance has really reduced premiums, vote no.

If we were betting types:

WW: 1-1 (but make that 2-1 if we get another roof-collapsing, thirty-inch blizzard before November 2).

TR: 1-1.

JG: 2-1 against. "If there's anything folks fear more than death, it's those vicious lawyers."

Amendment 35: Tobacco Tax Increase for Health-Related Purposes
What the hell would it do?

Raise taxes on cigarettes by 64 cents a pack. If Amendment 35 passes, it would be the first tobacco tax hike in this state in eighteen years, and would raise a projected $175 million a year for smoking-related health care, education and prevention.

Currently, the state collects about $65 million annually from cigarettes and tobacco products, dumping about one-quarter of the money into municipal coffers and keeping the rest in the general fund, where it's used to pay for everything from education to roads. Since 2000, Colorado has also received about $118 million a year as part of the Master Settlement Agreement with the tobacco companies, of which the legislature allocates approximately $5 million a year to programs like Quitline or to educating kids on the hazards of lighting up. As a result, the proponents of Amendment 35 specifically focused on funding such programs.

But even before the measure was put on the ballot, much less voted into law, Representative Brad Young pushed through House Bill 1455, which would put any monies collected through Amendment 35 directly into the general fund, ignoring not only the will of the voters, but language voted into the constitution that requires all of the proceeds to go to health-related programs.

Assuming the courts can hash out the inevitable challenges over that, one question remains: Should sinners subsidize others? Sin taxes are often regressive taxes, meaning they hurt the poor. According to the Journal of Public Health, those at or below the poverty level are more likely to smoke and less likely to be able to quit -- and if voters pass Amendment 35, these folks would be hit with an extra 64-cent tax they may not be able to afford. Proponents would like to think that the increased cost would push some people to quit. It sure worked in New York City, where smoking took an 11 percent dive after cigarettes hit ten bucks a pack.

Who's behind it?

Citizens for a Healthier Colorado, which includes the American Lung Association of Colorado, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Colorado Tobacco Education and Prevention Alliance.

War chest: $1,756,281.59

Big donors: Colorado Health & Hospital Association, Colorado Community Health Network, American Cancer Society.

Noteworthy supporters: Pat Stryker of Fort Collins, Forbes magazine's 377th-richest person in the world.

Who wants it dead?

Protect Our Constitution: Vote "No" on #35 Committee.

War chest: Empty, but...

Big donors: Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and the Colorado Association of Distributors have made $10,370.40 in non-monetary donations for various services, including consulting, "ally development" and use of office space and equipment.

Noteworthy opponents: Smokers.

Fun facts:

• Colorado now has the lowest tobacco tax in the country, at twenty cents per pack.

• Even if Amendment 35 passes, cigarettes will still be cheaper in Colorado than in any of our bordering states.

• Anti-smoking forces are rapidly approaching Denver: Arvada recently banned smoking in restaurants.

Stryker, who gave $3 million to defeat a proposed 2000 amendment that would have gutted bilingual education, is a high school dropout.

Best campaign snafu:

None (so far). But in previous elections, the tobacco industry compiled extensive personal files on its opponents, as well as journalists who might cover the campaigns.

Guide to decide:

• If you smoke unfiltered cigarettes, vote yes. You'll be thankful for those extra health-care dollars.

• If you smoke menthols, vote yes. You don't really smoke, anyway.

• If you like a perfect dive bar, vote no. Smoke is essential to covering up the smell of stale beer and vomit.

• If you like a fern bar, vote yes. A cigarette was never going to make you look cool, anyway.

• If you like putting off for tomorrow what you could do today, vote no.

• If you smoke only when you drink, then screw you.

If we were betting types:

WW: 6-1 in favor. But the death rate for smokers is climbing too fast to make an accurate count.

TR: 2-1 in favor.

JG: 100-none in favor. "Slam fucking dunk. The only people you can be mean to today are smokers. Plus, if you're against it, you're either an evil smoker or you're Satan incarnate."

Amendment 36: Selection of Presidential Electors
What the hell would it do?

Split the state's electoral college votes according to the percentage of votes cast for the presidential candidates, rather than award them in the winner-take-all system created by the U.S. Constitution.

Alert: If Amendment 36 passes, it goes into effect immediately. Not in 2008, not in 2012, but on November 2, 2004. That's why the rest of the country is saying that Colorado has the potential to play the role of spoiler that Florida did four years ago.

To be elected president, a candidate must win at least 270 of the 538 possible electoral votes. Each state has as many electoral votes as it does senators and representatives combined -- in Colorado's case, that's nine. And while nine might sound kind of puny compared to California's 55, the passage of Amendment 36 might be enough to change the actual outcome of the presidential race. Rather than give the winner of Colorado's popular vote -- Bush in 2000, and likely again in 2004 -- all nine electoral votes, Amendment 36 would immediately split the electoral votes, probably five to four. If that had happened in 2000, Al Gore would be up for re-election right now.

Who's behind it?

Phoenix-based People's Choice for President, which formed the local Make Your Vote for President Count committee.

War chest: $690,818

Big donors: People's Choice for President donated all but $1,568 of the total contributions.

Noteworthy supporters: Al Franken, state senator Ron Tupa.

Who wants it dead?

Coloradans Against a Really Stupid Idea.

War chest: $125,400.

Big donors: The Apollo Group ponied up $100,000 of the contributions.

Noteworthy opponents: Governor Bill Owens, who is spearheading Coloradans Against a Really Stupid Idea; U.S. Senate candidate Pete Coors.

Fun facts:

• The opposition's biggest donor is the Arizona-based Apollo Group, which owns the University of Phoenix, whose former president, J. Jorge Klor de Alva, has given the proponents most of their cash. California entrepreneur Klor de Alva is now the CEO of Phoenix-based Apollo International. Don't California and Arizona have enough electoral votes of their own?

• Since 2000, similar measures have been proposed in 29 states. None have passed.

Rick Ridder, who heads the pro-36 campaign, managed Howard Dean's presidential bid.

• Sitting this one out are U.S. Senate contender Ken Salazar and presidential candidate Senator John Kerry, who has the most to gain from its passage.

Best campaign snafu:

In a preemptive strike, on October 13 Fort Collins businessman Jason Napolitano filed suit to force the courts to determine whether the measure is constitutional.

Guide to decide:

• If you like rush-hour gridlock courtesy of presidential candidates coming to court swing-state Colorado, vote no.

• If you aced civics in high school, vote no.

• If you like to thumb your nose at the rest of the country, vote yes. After all, in 1893 Colorado was the first state to adopt a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote.

• If you're scared that Bush might win, vote yes.

• If you're scared that Kerry might win, vote no.

If we were betting types:

WW: 3-2 against. But once you split the votes, is that 1.5 to 1?

TR: 100-1 against. "That is, I'll take $1 from anyone who wants to bet on the passage of this amendment," he says, "and if they're right, I'll hand over $100. I'll become rich if many people take this bet!"

JG: 1-1. "Almost too close to call. But don't we need a Colorado-based issue that doesn't focus on murder, sexual assault or binge drinking?"

Amendment 37: Renewable Energy Requirement
What the hell would it do?

Make Colorado a little greener. We already have green license plates; Amendment 37 would ensure that we also have some green policies. If it passes, Amendment 37 would require Colorado utilities with more than 40,000 customers -- currently nine outfits, which collectively serve about 80 percent of the state -- to generate at least 10 percent of their energy from renewables by 2015. At least four-tenths of that percentage would come from solar (hence the large campaign contribution from solar advocates), but the remaining six-tenths could come from wind, geothermal heat, methane, biomass facilities, hydroelectric or hydrogen fuel cells.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, that 10 percent dependence on renewables would be the equivalent of pulling 600,000 cars off the road each year. (Where's that magic wand at 5 p.m. on I-70?) Amendment 37 would also create energy credits -- something free-market types have been clamoring for -- so that if, say, Xcel Energy generated only 8 percent of its output from renewables, it could buy the remaining 2 percent from a utility that exceeded the production requirements. And each of the utility companies would have the option to opt out of the 10 percent requirement by putting the question to a customer election -- but at least 25 percent of the customers would have to vote. (Only American Idol captures that kind of market share.) Finally, Amendment 37 would cap the amount an average residential electric bill could jump to 50 cents per month; investors, commercial users and small-business owners would pick up the rest of the costs.

And if any problems arose in implementation of the measure, the legislature could make a fix. Because despite its title, 37 is not actually a constitutional amendment.

Who's behind it?

Coloradans for Clean Energy.

War chest: $206,378, plus a $500,000 loan from Environment Colorado.

Big donors: Union of Concerned Scientists, Solar Energy Industries Association, Colorado Environmental Coalition.

Noteworthy supporters:Denver City Council, Denver Public Schools.

Who wants it dead?

Citizens for Sensible Energy Choices.

War chest: $1,156,000.

Big donors: Xcel (almost half, at $520,000), Rural Electric Association and Tri-State Generation.

Noteworthy opponents: Club 20, Downtown Denver Partnership, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Fun facts:

• New York State requires that 25 percent of its energy come from renewables; Colorado currently produces 2 percent of its energy from alternative sources.

• Despite now arguing that renewable energy will raise costs, Xcel has testified that its new wind-power plant outside of Lamar will save customers $5 million annually.

• Last spring, students on the Auraria campus voted to increase their student fees by $1 in order to power the campus entirely with solar and wind energy. They'll raise approximately $83,600 a year to pay for the 1,451.5 megawatts of renewable energy needed.

Best campaign snafu:

Xcel sent a notice of opposition to Amendment 37 to its 1.3 million customers in their bills. Direct marketing in action!

Guide to decide:

• If you drive or aspire to drive a Toyota Prius or a Mini Cooper, vote yes.

• If you hate the wind in your hair and the sun in your eyes, vote no.

• If you're a rural rancher, vote yes. (Surprisingly, the rural West and urban left are teaming up on this one.)

• If you drive a Hummer, vote yes. You've got to do something to atone for your gas-guzzling, environment-killing ways.

• If the terms B-100 and B-20 mean anything to you, vote yes.

• If you think the terms B-100 and B-20 refer to bombers, vote no.

• If you hate Xcel, vote yes. Just to piss them off.

If we were betting types:

WW: 2-1 in favor, unless Xcel Energy chairman Wayne Brunetti is responsible for registering and paying off those 6,000 felons.

TR: 2-1 in favor.

JG: 2-1 against. "Christ, the people in this city can't even approve a simple cell-phone tower without throwing a temper tantrum. How are they going to agree on clean energy?"

Referendum A: State Personnel SystemReferendum A would make the state personnel system -- which oversees the hiring, firing and raises of everyone from the obnoxious twit at the DMV to the super-helpful customer-service rep serving the line next to you at the DMV -- less arcane. Would it make it more fair? Depends on how you feel about an incoming governor being given the power to toss an additional 140 high-level bureaucrats out on their asses.

Guide to decide:

If you like working for Governor Bill Owens (and who doesn't?), vote yes.

If you hate working for Governor Bill Owens (and who doesn't?), vote no.

Referendum B: Obsolete Constitutional ProvisionsVote yes. Too bad the rest of Colorado can't be cleaned up as easily.

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