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All three statewide ballot measures headed toward defeat

Marijuana tax fails, Proposition 120 and Amendment 78 were behind in vote tally
Marijuana is displayed at the River Rock dispensary in Denver. Proposition 119, which would have added a tax to recreational marijuana, failed to pass Tuesday. (Brennan Linsley/Associated Press file)

Colorado voters on Tuesday rejected a proposal to increase taxes on recreational marijuana to pay for out-of-school support services for students like tutoring and therapy.

And two more measures – Proposition 120 and Amendment 78 – appeared headed for defeat.

Proposition 120 was a Republican-backed effort to reduce some property taxes, and Amendment 78 would have created a legislative process for allocating non-state funds like federal grants, lawsuit settlements and private gifts.

Supporters of Proposition 119, the marijuana tax, admitted defeat at about 8:30 p.m. With nearly a million ballots counted, the measure was failing with 54% rejecting the initiative and 46% in support.

The mood at the Maven Hotel in downtown Denver, where about 50 supporters for Proposition 119 held the official Yes on 119 watch party, was hopeful around 7 p.m. as attendees sipped drinks and nibbled on hors d’oeuvres while watching early results trickle in. But the mood began to fade after 8 p.m. as the measure looked increasingly unlikely to succeed. Few supporters remained by 8:30 p.m.

Judy Solano, a Democratic former state representative and retired school teacher who helped lead the opposition, said she was “thrilled that the voters were smart enough to realize that creating a huge new bureaucracy to take care of one issue in education … would have been a very expensive and unnecessary thing to do.”

She thinks voters “saw through” supporters’ arguments and decided “we have to properly fund our schools before we do anything else.”

The vote for Proposition 120 as of 9 p.m. was 57% in opposition to the ballot measure and 43% in favor.

The ballot measure was failing by a wide margin in conservative strongholds like Mesa and Douglas counties. It was also trailing in El Paso County, the state’s most populous conservative county.

“I think the voters who understand how stuff they care about gets funded turned out,” said Scott Wasserman, a Proposition 120 opponent who leads the liberal-leaning Bell Policy Center. “I think you had a very educated electorate that was in a ‘no’ kind of mood.”

The vote for Amendment 78 as of 8:45 p.m. was nearly 44% in favor and 56% against, according to 969,637 ballots counted so far. The early results are incomplete, but the constitutional amendment would need approval from 55% of voters to pass.

The Colorado General Assembly has an appropriation process to decide how state tax revenue is spent each year, but certain non-state sources like federal grant money, private donations and other “custodial funds” from outside the state government aren’t subject to that process.

For example, the $1.7 billion in federal relief dollars that Colorado received last year from the CARES Act wasn’t subject to the legislative appropriation process. It was spent by Gov. Jared Polis’ office through an executive order, angering Republicans who complained they were left out of the decision making.

Proponents of the ballot measure say it would provide greater transparency and accountability to state spending by requiring lawmakers to determine how the state spends custodial money, which could affect federal emergency relief and grant dollars, money from legal settlements, funding for transportation projects that are currently allocated by an independent commission and private gifts and donations, like those collected by public colleges and universities.

“I just want more oversight over where the money is going and what it’s doing,” said Dom Galluccio, a 32-year-old unaffiliated voter from Denver who cast his ballot at the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building on Tuesday afternoon.

An earlier version of this story erred in its description of Proposition 120, confusing it with Amendment 78. Proposition 120 is a Republican-backed effort to reduce some property taxes. The error was made in editing at the Herald.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.