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Latest ballot measures offer voters little more than constitutional clutter

Nearly every election in Colorado presents the same grim prospect: Voters will further clutter the state constitution by approving needless new amendments.

The upcoming mid-term election is hardly an exception with seven proposed amendments on a lengthy ballot. Even more disconcerting, some of the amendments could add still more knots to what’s already a hopelessly tangled fishing line of contradictory fiscal policy that limits the function of a fairly important part of state government — the legislature.

The ease with which it’s possible to change the document that prescribes the structure and function of state government not only raises numerous problems, but also usurps the representative nature of that government. Citizens certainly have the right to petition government for redress of grievances. But there are far better opportunities and processes to do so: selecting legislators and other state officials they choose to represent them, lobbying for changes in legislation and, failing that, amending laws through ballot initiatives.

To be sure, changing the Colorado Constitution requires collecting sufficient voter signatures on petitions to put an amendment on the ballot and then convincing those voters to approve the amendment. Those aren’t necessarily easy hurdles to overcome.

From a more cynical — and, unfortunately, realistic — perspective, it’s also a matter of money: hiring enough people to circulate petitions and buying enough campaign advertising to sway opinion. That money can come from sources outside Colorado pursuing agendas that don’t always include the best interests of the state. And here’s another issue to ponder: How closely do most voters read the ballot measures or fully consider the implications?

The end result of the initiative process has included amendments to regulate bear hunting and increase cigarette taxes. Without debating the pros and cons of those amendments, aren’t such measures better suited to state laws than the state constitution?

The other result of the initiative process has been the cumulative effects of amendments. Even as the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) Amendment limits government spending, Amendment 23 requires annual increases to K-12 public education funding. The problem is, constitutional amendments can only be changed with voter approval of another amendment.

The seven amendments before voters in the upcoming election involve changes to everything as seemingly inconsequential as bingo to an issue no less significant than the very definition of human life. Two more amendments propose substantial changes in property taxes and government borrowing.

The cumulative effect of amendments that cut property tax rates for public school districts, prescribe that state funding replace reduced property tax revenues and require state funding to K-12 schools also increase every year drastically shifts the state budget. Remember, too, that the constitution requires a balanced budget and limits spending.

As the state is forced to allocate more funding to public schools, proportionally less is available for other important functions, among them courts, prisons and, ironically, higher education. Ultimately, state government would exist largely to distribute funding to K-12 public schools.

The proposed amendments on the upcoming election ballot once again only serve to illustrate the need to clean up the Colorado Constitution and make it more difficult to add more clutter.

Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times. Reach him at 424-5133 or phil@thebusinesstimes.com.

Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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