Election 2021: Breaking down the three Colorado statewide ballot issues

Election date is Nov. 2; ballots start going out Friday, Oct. 8
Colorado Denver voting ballot box drop absentee mail vote
Posted at 2:41 PM, Oct 07, 2021

Friday is the first day that ballots will start to be sent out to Colorado voters for the Nov. 2, 2021, election, which will feature three statewide ballot measures on which all Coloradans will be voting.

The measures include one potential constitutional amendment, which will need approval from 55% of voters to pass, and two measures that will require a simple majority for passage.

Below, we break down the three measures in terms of what they are set to accomplish, which groups are proponents and opponents of the measures, arguments for and against passage of each measure, and the bottom-line impact each could have statewide.

Friday marks the first day county clerks can start sending ballots to voters. Coloradans can register to vote up through and on Election Day. If you need to register to vote or modify your information, you can find those and other election resources by clicking here.

Denver7 will have more in the coming days on some of the local ballot issues and elections, and in-depth breakdowns of each of the three statewide ballot questions.

Election Day: What's on ballot, where to vote, & where to get info

Amendment 78

Legislative Authority for Spending State Money
55% of vote needed to pass

Amendment 78 asks Colorado voters whether the state Constitution and state law should be amended so the state legislature would have to allocate any so-called “custodial money” – money from the federal government, court settlements, donations and other sources – the state receives.

Custodial money is allocated to the state for a specific purpose, like the money the state has received from the federal government during the COVID-19 pandemic, which can currently be doled out by the governor, elected officials, state agencies, and public colleges and universities.

Amendment 78 was called Initiative 19 while the proponents of the measure – Colorado Rising Action, a conservative dark money political action committee – were gathering signatures.

Should the measure receive 55% of the statewide vote needed to pass, all of the custodial money the state receives would go into a new fund that would accrue interest. A public hearing would have to be held before the legislature could allocate any of the spending. Interest earned in the new fund could be used in the General Fund, which lawmakers already allocate every year.

Last year, the state received more than $1.6 billion in federal pandemic relief money, as well as millions in legal settlements, including from opioid-related settlements, which were allocated by the governor’s office and which are being put toward state and local programs by the attorney general’s office, respectively. These are the types of monies that would be affected should Amendment 78 pass.

According to nonpartisan Legislative Council Staff, arguments for passage of Amendment 78 include more government transparency over spending.

But staff note that it would add “unnecessary and expensive bureaucracy and risks significant unintended consequences” – including delays in state services and emergency responses. It could also lead to the state being less competitive in grant bids and make spending of those funds more political, according to legislative staff.

A lawsuit was filed in late September in Denver District Court challenging Amendment 78’s placement on the November ballot, arguing that it is not related to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). In odd years like 2021, the only measures that can be placed on the statewide ballot must have to do with taxes or issues under TABOR. Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue and Scott Wasserman of the Bell Policy Center filed the lawsuit.

According to legislative staff, the state would have to increase spending by at least $1 million a year to add staff to agency budget offices and the Joint Budget Committee. Staff say the overall impact on state revenue is unknown based on how the measure would be implemented and whether interest would increase or decrease, among other factors.

Click here to read more.

Proposition 119

Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress
Simple majority needed to pass

Proposition 119 asks voters to increase retail marijuana taxes by 5% from 2022-2024 from their current 15% tax rate to 20% by 2024, and add in about $20 million from the General Fund each year, in order to create and fund a learning enrichment and academic progress program to put money toward out-of-school learning, tutoring and other so-called “enrichment” opportunities for Colorado kids ages 5 to 17.

According to Legislative Council Staff, the additional tax money and money from the General Fund could go toward helping kids with special needs, second-language training, learning support, career and technical training programs and mental health services, along with the tutoring and other possible programs.

If passed, the new money would not be able to be used on any regular school curriculum. The measure would establish the Colorado Learning Authority, which will be overseen by a nine-member board that is appointed by the governor and which would create the criteria for the program to certify providers (existing districts would be prequalified), distribute the money and create a system to evaluate the new program’s effects, among other things.

In 2023, if the measure is passed, kids in families that are at or below the federal poverty level would be prioritized before the Colorado Learning Authority starts determining awards in 2024 while still prioritizing low-income families.

The statewide retail marijuana tax rate would jump to 18% in 2022; 19% in 2023 and 20% in 2024 if the measure is passed. Since the tracking of personal data on who purchases retail marijuana is prohibited by state law, the staff used federal data based on tobacco product spending to estimate the impact on marijuana consumers – which said the tax burden would shift by $137 million – mostly on people making under $100,000 a year – in the 2024-25 budget year.

Arguments in favor of passage of Proposition 119 include that it would help low-income students who can’t afford the cost of after-school enrichment programs, help students who have struggled during the pandemic, and give families choices about which programs can help their kids the best.

Arguments against passage include that public school money would be diverted to private providers and that further increasing retail marijuana taxes would push more people toward the black market and increase the financial burden on low-income people who use retail marijuana.

“If voters want to increase retail marijuana taxes for education, the revenue would be better used to expand the capacity of public schools in every community, keeping the money under local control and allowing school districts to reinstate programs they have had to cut and to provide additional learning and enrichment opportunities for children,” Legislative Council Staff wrote in their analysis.

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Proposition 120

Property Tax Assessment Rate Reduction
Simple majority vote to pass

Proposition 120 asks voters whether to cut property tax assessment rates for certain types of properties across the state, but it carries with it caveats after state lawmakers passed a measure during this year’s session to thwart some of the changes that passage of 120 would make.

The measure is also backed by Colorado Rising Action, the conservative group behind Amendment 78, and in its initial iteration aimed to give permanent property assessment rate cuts to all residential and most nonresidential properties to amount to about $1 billion per year.

The measure, as written, would cut the residential property tax rate from 7.15% to 6.5% and the commercial property tax rate from 29% to 26.4%.

But lawmakers passed SB21-293 this spring, and Gov. Polis signed it into law in June, which makes the 6.5% rate for residential properties proposed under Proposition 120 apply only to multifamily housing and the 26.4% commercial property rate apply only to lodgings.

As such, because of the law and how it subdivides the types of properties and their tax assessment rates, the measure would not impact single-family homes.

Legislative Council Staff wrote in the Blue Book that after that bill was passed by lawmakers, Proposition 120 would reduce property tax revenue to local governments by between $45 million and $50 million in 2022 and 2023, with larger reductions in coming years, rather than by about $1 billion each year.

The measure passed by lawmakers also lowered the residential, agricultural and renewable energy property assessment rates for 2022 and 2023, providing those property owners two years of relief.

If Proposition 120 passes, it would allow the state to hold on to $25 million each year above the threshold to trigger refunds to taxpayers if that money goes to local property tax exemptions for seniors and veterans with a disability related to their military service.

According to Legislative Council Staff, the measure would have the greatest impact on areas that have more multifamily housing and lodging and could serve to decrease funding to public schools, firefighting, police, transportation and libraries, which are all funded in part through property taxes paid to local governments.

Legislative staff said the reduction in property tax revenue to school districts would mean the state would have to make up the difference because of the school funding formula and that any offsetting done by the legislature could still result in lower funding for some districts.

Staff estimate that the state would have to pay about $12.8 million in FY2022-23 and $14 million in FY2023-24 to backfill the decreased revenue to school districts.

The argument for passing Proposition 120 is that it would reduce multifamily property taxes and could potentially “encourage investment to address Colorado’s housing shortage,” according to LCS, and bolster employment at lodging properties like hotels.

Arguments against passing Proposition 120 include that it could result in cuts to government services like water, transportation, education, emergency services and fire protection – some of which are already struggling to generate the revenue they need to perform said services.

Click here to read more.