EDITORIAL: No on Amendment 71 — don’t make ballot access pay to play


You don’t have to look very far to see the folly in proposed Amendment 71, limiting citizen power to change the Colorado Constitution.

Just this last legislative session, a one-vote majority in the Colorado Senate allowed Republicans to thwart the clear will of the people time and again.

In one of the most flagrant and dangerous partisan abuses in recent memory, Republican leaders refused to allow a measure forward that would rectify what is essentially a housekeeping matter created around a hospital provider fee system. That system was created to offset the taxpayer burden of increased Medicaid costs, a program that was designed and sanctioned by all political and concerned parties. A partisan slap-fight over the issue now threatens the very financial integrity of the state. This year alone the stunt is robbing our schools of millions of desperately needed dollars, and once again pushing our transportation infrastructure closer to oblivion.

With luck, that all may soon change. With the exit of some of the key villains that held the hospital fee solution hostage, common sense may finally prevail.

Aurora Sentinel BadgeAnd if not? Then it once again will be up to statewide voters to do what partisan politicians cannot. But should proposed Amendment 71 pass, the difficulty in just getting a measure on the ballot to prevent damaging partisan politics could be insurmountable.

The amendment seeks to make it harder to get constitutional amendments on the ballot, and harder to pass them.

We completely understand and sympathize with the sentiment behind the measure. Colorado’s constitution is cluttered with 152 amendments, many of them competing, contradictory and increasingly complex. Representative government is the best way to change the state Constitution, but it can’t be the only way.

Given the increasingly partisan nature of state and national politics — and the serious danger politicians are only too willing to wreak upon constituents for the sake of winning political arguments — it would truly be folly to limit Colorado residents’ ability to fend for themselves. The hospital provider fee dilemma is a perfect example of the peril that voters will have to eliminate themselves if legislators are unwilling or unable to handle the job.

Amendment 71 makes it not just more difficult to put a proposed amendment on the ballot, it does that by making it exceedingly more expensive. Currently, backers of an amendment must collect about 100,000 valid signatures from registered voters anywhere in the state. Under Amendment 71, backers would have to collect signatures from each of the state’s 35 senate districts, at least 2 percent of registered voters in each district.

On the surface, that may sound fair. It’s absolutely not. It  means that any one rural or urban senate district would have a real shot at hamstringing the rest of the state in even getting to vote on a measure. That odd veto power doesn’t exist anywhere else in state government. Just a couple years ago, northwest Colorado state senators and county commissioners were seriously talking about seceding from Colorado over what they see as unfair treatment by urban lawmakers. It’s not a stretch to see that these counties could easily extort the state to skew an election.

But the most egregious part of that proposed change would mean that only wealthy interests would realistically have access to the ballot for amendment changes. The cost of coordinating and marketing a ballot initiative among all counties — before there’s even an election — would allow only the best-funded causes to make it work. That means only questions asked by the oil industry and big interests, such as those funded by the Koch Brothers, big labor unions and others, would ever see Election Day.

We have no problem with the part of this measure requiring 55 percent of voters approve an amendment in order to enact it, rather than the current simple majority. In fact, that may actually hold the answer.

For the Legislature to amend the Colorado Constitution, a two-thirds majority of each house must approve the measure. A fairer, more logical way to raise the bar for voter-approved amendments would be to require they, too, rally two-thirds of the votes cast for a measure to be approved.

Had such a system been approved years ago, very few amendments would have become law, including past measures that raised minimum wage and restricted gays from marrying. The state’s lamentable so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, passed at only 53 percent of the vote, would never have become the economic albatross it is today.

Requiring a super-majority of voters to approve an initiative would have the desired effect in that most measures to make the ballot would likely be changes in statute, which aren’t binding in the way constitutional amendments are. If there’s an irregularity, lawmakers can easily rectify it. But few if any lawmakers would run against voter will and try and junk any voter-sanctioned measure.

As it’s written, however, Amendment 71 would only undermine the critical power of untouchable legislation held by voters to protect themselves from partisan scams. This is no time to surrender that power. Vote no on Amendment 71.