Election 2020: The Eleven Statewide Measures on the Colorado Ballot

Smokers would pay the price for Proposition EE.
Smokers would pay the price for Proposition EE. Getty Images
Ballots are arriving at homes across Colorado this week. The state has had all-mail ballot elections since 2014, which has resulted in record turnout and, this year, many sighs of relief from people who do not have to vote in person during a pandemic (though vote centers will be open in every Colorado county for those who like the personal touch, lost their ballot...or even want to register on election day, as you can if you've lived in this state for 22 days by November 3).

But this year, you’ll want to have plenty of time to consider your ballot, and maybe a few beers on hand (as well as the 2020 State Ballot Information Ballot, aka the “Blue Book,” that also arrived through the mail) as you dig deep into the issues. In addition to the contests between congressional candidates (the race for the U.S. Senate between Cory Gardner and John Hickenlooper, as well as all seven U.S. Representative seats), you’ll be voting on state legislative races, RTD board seats, judicial retention questions and a slew of municipal questions (Denver has ten, as well as two Denver Public Schools questions, which we detailed last week).

And then there are the eleven statewide ballot measures, including a few that raise concerns you might have thought this state had settled thirty, forty, even fifty years ago. But no. Keep reading for a quick look at these issues, and what your vote could mean.

Amendment B: Repeal the Gallagher Amendment

The most recent polling on Amendment B shows that the majority of voters are undecided — and you can’t blame them for being confused. The Gallagher Amendment, namesake of then-state senator Dennis Gallagher, was passed by voters in 1982 when homeowners saw their property taxes going higher and higher. The Gallagher Amendment capped the percentage of the state’s property taxes that could come from homeowners — but over the past decades, as home values have increased, businesses have been hit hard by the discrepancy...and so have municipalities, many rural, that depend on property taxes for their funding. Currently homeowner property taxes are assessed at 7.15 percent for residential property, compared with 29 percent for most non-residential property. “If the Gallagher Amendment is not repealed, owners of high-end homes in Denver’s wealthiest neighborhoods would get a tax cut next year,” the Blue Book notes, “while small businesses and farmers would pay a larger share of property taxes.”

What a Yes vote means: If you vote yes, the Gallagher Amendment will be removed, the inequities between businesses and private residences will be (somewhat) removed, property tax rates will be fixed at their current level, and homeowners will not pay more. That’s what proponents argue, at any rate. But if homeowners’ property taxes go up, you can be sure that you’ll hear that famous Gallagher baritone booming, “I told you so.” And so much more.

What a No vote means: The Gallagher Amendment will remain, and small businesses will continue to be taxed at a rate four times higher than residential property owners — until someone comes up with another fix. Which could be municipal mill levy changes, or different Gallagher rates for each county, or maybe another big, confusing statewide proposal.

Amendment C: Conduct of Charitable Gaming

Since farther down the ballot you’ll be determining whether to allow the stakes to be raised in the three Colorado towns where actual gambling is allowed, it seems almost quaint to be voting on charity bingo raffles. Still, the Colorado Legislature referred this measure to the ballot, and because it’s a constitutional amendment, it will require 55 percent of the vote to pass.

What a Yes vote means: If approved, nonprofit organizations that have been operating in the state for at least three years will be able to apply for a bingo-raffle license, then hire workers who are not part of the organization to conduct the games — and pay the pros to do so. Currently, an organization must have been operating for at least five years before it can apply for a bingo-raffle license, and the games must be run by unpaid volunteers of that organization. Bingo!

What a No vote means: Colorado would keep its circa 1958 constitutional amendment allowing these games in the first place.

Amendment 76: Citizenship Qualification of Voters

This measure was placed on the ballot by a citizen initiative, and it’s a fine example of the law of unintended consequences, among other things. Since it’s a constitutional amendment, it will require 55 percent of the vote to pass.

What a Yes vote means: The language of the Colorado Constitution will be changed to specify that “only a citizen” of the United States, rather than “every citizen,” is eligible to vote in the Colorado elections, if that citizen meets all other qualifications (has lived in Colorado for at least 22 days prior to the election and has registered to vote, for example). But because of a nuance in that language change, seventeen-year-olds who are currently allowed to vote in a primary election if they will be eighteen by the November election will no longer be allowed to participate in primaries.

What a No vote means: The language, which seems clear enough, would stay as is — and conscientious seventeen-year-olds will still be able to get an early start in doing their civic duty.

Amendment 77: Local Voter Approval of Casino Bet Limits and Games in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek

Back in 1990 — and, yes, that was thirty years ago! — Coloradans approved a constitutional amendment that allowed “limited stakes gaming” in Cripple Creek, Central City and Black Hawk. Billed as a move to raise money for historic preservation in these old mining towns, as well as other projects around the state, it called for bets of up to $5 on slot machines, blackjack and poker in mom-and-pop casinos that would be created in historic buildings that would not devote more than a certain percentage of space to gambling.

Does this look like a historic building to you? - MICHAEL ROBERTS
Does this look like a historic building to you?
Michael Roberts
Been to Black Hawk lately? While a 34-story hotel might not seem particularly historic, the Ameristar embodies just how far Colorado’s gaming industry has gone over the past three decades. The original intent of the law had already been stretched almost beyond recognition before 2008, when Colorado voters approved expanding not just the hours for casinos to 24/7, but also adding the games of roulette and craps and allowing bets up to $100. That measure was pushed as a benefit for Colorado’s community colleges, which have indeed collected plenty of cash over the past dozen years.

This measure was placed on the ballot by citizen initiative (and pushed by gaming interests, as the first two votes were).

What a Yes vote means: Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek will be able to choose whether they want to add new games, and also increase or remove bet limits altogether. If they do, they’ll be improving the coffers of community colleges, but that’s unlikely to be the motivation behind any actions these towns propose — since the measure would also give them 10 percent of the increased take. The three have approached gambling very differently through the years — just look at the difference between Central City and Black Hawk — and are likely to continue doing so. Still, this will give them a chance to take more control of their own destiny, and also let the state and community colleges cash in.

What a No vote means: Colorado gambling will operate under the 2008 rules, with the addition of sports betting, which is now allowed in casinos after voters approved it last November.

Proposition EE: Taxes on Nicotine Products

The Colorado Legislature put this measure to the ballot, as a way to raise revenue for expanded preschool programs, a pet project of Governor Jared Polis. To sweeten the pot, some of the increased funds are earmarked for K-12 education, affordable housing and eviction assistance, among other things. Puff, puff!

What a Yes vote means:
Smokers would pay a lot more not just for cigarettes, but when they buy vaping products, which are currently not taxed at all. (Note: These are vaping products for nicotine, not marijuana.) The new taxes would be incremental, and not fully phased in until 2027; a pack of twenty cigarettes that’s now taxed at .84 cents would be taxed at $2.64 in 2027. By then, vaping products would be taxed at 62 percent of their retail price. Proponents estimate that EE could generate up to $175.6 million in the first year, and $275.9 million in 2027-28. That’s a lot of moolah for a state that’s looking cash-strapped during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What a No vote means: Smokers will not pay the additional price for their habit, and the state’s wish list will go up in smoke.

Proposition 113: Adopt Agreement to Elect U.S. President by National Popular Vote

Ready to go back to college — the electoral college? If you loved high school civics, you’ll love all the arguments for and against this measure, placed on the ballot by referendum petition, after the Colorado Legislature approved the bill and Governor Jared Polis signed off on it. But while this proposal will have no bearing on the 2020 presidential vote, the results of that vote could definitely have a bearing on how people feel about the popular vote in the future.

What a Yes vote means: If Colorado voters approve 113, they would enter the state into an agreement to elect the President of the United States by a national popular vote — once enough states join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, that is, and currently the movement is nowhere close. Colorado would become only the fifteenth state to approve it, bringing the number of committed electoral votes to 196, short of the 270 needed. Still, by voting for this measure, you’re pushing the concept that one person gets one vote, and that the President of the United States should be the candidate who gets the most popular votes nationwide. (You’re also helping open the door to endless legal and constitutional challenges.)

What a No vote means: Currently, in order to be elected president, a candidate must receive the majority of electoral votes, at least 270 out of the 538; each state’s legislature determines how to award its electoral votes. In Colorado, they go to the candidate who wins the most votes in the state. So if you vote no, that’s where Colorado’s votes will go, at least until the next disputed election...which could be simultaneous to this vote.
click to enlarge The ballots are in the mail...and the wolves are at your door. - GETTY IMAGES/MICHAEL CUMMINGS
The ballots are in the mail...and the wolves are at your door.
Getty Images/Michael Cummings

Proposition 114: Reintroduction and Management of Gray Wolves

This proposal was put on the ballot by citizen initiative — as a last resort, those citizens say. “We’re here because we’ve exhausted all other options for getting wolves on the ground,” says Rob Edward, who’s been fighting to bring them back to Colorado since 1994. Although the last known Colorado wolf was killed in the ’40s, in January Colorado Parks & Wildlife confirmed that six wolves had been spotted in Moffatt County — just a month after the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund submitted the petitions for Proposition 114 to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. But this fall, a hunter killed a couple of wolves in Wyoming — where it’s legal to hunt them — that may have been from that pack.

What a Yes vote means: If Proposition 114 is approved, it will be the first time in the country that voters have ordered the reintroduction of a species. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission will be charged with developing a plan to reintroduce gray wolves on designated lands west of the Continental Divide by the end of 2023 and hold statewide hearings on the program. Livestock owners who lose animals to gray wolves will be paid fair compensation, to be determined and covered by the state. In the meantime, deer and elk — which can overgraze sensitive habitats — could be running scared.

What a No vote means: Wolves will be left on their own, to return to Colorado from Idaho and Wyoming, where the feds have already reintroduced them.

Proposition 115: Prohibit Abortions After 22 Weeks

Yes, an abortion measure is back on the ballot in Colorado — the state that first legalized it in 1967, thanks to the efforts of former governor Dick Lamm, then a state lawmaker. That measure seems timid today: It allowed abortions in cases where a women’s physical or mental health were in jeopardy, or in cases of rape or incest, up until sixteen weeks of pregnancy — and a three-doctor panel had to sign off on the procedure. But after that initial step, laws and legal rulings expanded abortion rights, culminating in 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, protecting a pregnant woman’s right to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. Over the years, other Colorado measures have tried to place restrictions on that right; all have been defeated.

What a Yes vote means: If Proposition 115 passes, an abortion after a fetus reaches 22 weeks of gestational age would be prohibited, except when required to save the life of a pregnant woman.

What a No vote means: Women in Colorado would continue to have the legal right to an abortion at any time during pregnancy.

Supreme Court willing.

Proposition 116: State Income Tax Rate Reduction

This proposal, referred to the ballot by citizen initiative, would reduce the state income tax from 4.63 percent to 4.55 percent.

What a Yes vote means: If Coloradans pass Proposition 116, most of them would have a little more beer money — an estimated $40 for those earning $50,000 a year, the Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara notes in a compelling commercial. Those earning a half-million dollars a year would have even more beer money: $400 that they probably could live without. Even so, the 2 percent of Colorado’s taxpayers earning that hefty amount or more would realize over half of the total tax savings, according to opponents’ estimates. And the state would have about $203 million less in the general fund budget for 2020-21, at a time when Colorado is already looking at major cuts because of the economic downturn in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

What a No vote means: You might drink a few six-packs less (if you’ve gotten this far on the ballot, you’ve probably had enough already), and the state would not have to cut quite as much from the budget. It would also mean that a similar proposal would almost surely reappear in better economic times.

Proposition 117: Voter Approval for Certain State Enterprises

Back in 1992, Coloradans passed the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, TABOR, the brainchild of Douglas Bruce, which required that all proposed tax increases — whether municipal or state — must go to a vote of the people. In the years since, voters have weighed in on many “de-Brucing” options, while governments large and small have also explored implementing fees that would be free of TABOR’s stipulations, including new tuition fees, new hunting license fees, and the controversial hospital provider fee that saved some rural facilities a few years ago.

What a Yes vote means: If Proposition 117 passes, voters would be required to approve all new state government enterprises with fee revenue over $100 million in the first five years — and the Colorado Legislature would either put a lot more tax measures on the ballot, or scramble to find another loophole to help raise funds.

What a No vote means: The status quo would remain until the next effort to do away with some or all of TABOR.

Proposition 118: Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program

After a similar proposal failed to make it out of the Colorado Legislature last year, Proposition 118 was put on the ballot by citizen initiative.

What a Yes vote means: If approved by Colorado voters, eligible employees would be able to take up to twelve weeks of paid family and medical leave annually beginning January 1, 2024; employers and employees (whether they use the program or not) would pay a payroll premium to finance these benefits starting in January 2023; and the state would create a pricey paid family and medical leave insurance program to be administered by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

What a No vote means: Business will continue as usual in these very unusual times.
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun