DENVER – With the Legislature failing this year to advance bills on several key issues, residents and interest groups plan to continue the conversation on the ballot this fall.
The list of issues facing the state is long:
Give local governments the ability to ban hydraulic fracturing and increase well setbacks.Create a presidential primary.Increase the minimum wage.Eliminate taxpayer refunds so the state can spend additional revenue. Allow terminally ill patients to request life-ending medication.Each one of the issues was debated and killed this year in a divided Legislature.
An effort to restructure a more than $700 million annual hospital provider fee was perhaps the most frustrating to groups fighting for money for schools and roads, considering the legislation had some bipartisan support.
The plan would have exempted the fee from the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, lowering taxpayer refunds set aside in the general fund, thereby freeing money for spending.
Colorado Priorities is collecting signatures to place an initiative on the November ballot that would pick up where the Legislature failed, asking voters to invest money in schools, roads, mental health and senior services.
“This is the definition of a fiscally responsible solution to some of Colorado’s longest-standing challenges,” said Kathy Plomer, a member of the Colorado Priorities coalition.
The initiative would allow the state to retain all tax revenue collected over the TABOR limit for 10 years, thereby eliminating refunds during that time.
Taxpayers likely won’t see refunds when they file their taxes next year. But they could see refunds in the following two years, in 2018 and 2019.
The ballot effort emerged out of a series of statewide meetings last year known as Building a Better Colorado.
Another issue that confused observers because of its bipartisan support was a legislative effort to create a presidential primary.
The time seemed right. An outcry from voters following a chaotic March 1 caucus seemed to fuel the effort. But lawmakers couldn’t make progress.
Let Colorado Vote has proposed ballot initiatives that would open the presidential primary to all voters, including unaffiliated, without having to register with a party. All voters would simply receive a ballot in the mail. The group is collecting signatures to make the ballot.
“There are 1 million independent voters who help pay for primary elections, and they should be able to vote with the same ease as other Coloradans,” said Curtis Hubbard, spokesman for Let Colorado Vote.
Lawmakers also came up short in addressing local control when it comes to regulating oil and gas activities, including fracking.
There were attempts to change the state’s mission from fostering the development of oil and gas to administering it, and to give local governments the ability to zone oil and gas. But both measures failed.
Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development is collecting signatures for two initiatives.
One effort would grant local governments the authority to enact rules and regulations more stringent than that of the state; the other would increase well setbacks to 2,500 feet from homes, hospitals, schools, playgrounds and drinking water sources. The current setback requirement is 500 feet.
“These are common-sense, down-to-earth proposals to keep our communities from being overwhelmed and harmed by heavy industrial oil and gas operations right next to neighborhoods and schools,” said Tricia Olson, executive director of the initiatives’ issue committee.
Another issue to fail in the Legislature this year was allowing terminally ill patients to request life-ending medication. It was the second time in as many years that the effort failed after emotional testimony.
Proponents say it is time to ask voters to approve the practice.
“Terminally ill Coloradans should be able to make these deeply personal end-of-life decisions, together with their families, doctors and spiritual advisers,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion and Choices.
Similarly, an effort to gradually increase the minimum wage met its demise again this year.
Lawmakers killed an effort that would have allowed local governments to raise wages in their counties.
Colorado Families for a Fair Wage will launch its ballot effort Wednesday. The initiative calls for gradually increasing the state minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020.
“Raising the minimum wage is fair and smart,” said Jenny Davies, spokeswoman for the campaign. “It’s only fair that people working full time should earn enough to support their families without being forced to rely on public assistance.”