Colorado voters just say ‘no’ to state ballot measures |

Colorado voters just say ‘no’ to state ballot measures

Todd Hartman
Rocky Mountain News
Denver, CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado ” Voters took a look at one of the longest sets of ballot measures in state history and responded with one short word: “No.”

Nine of 14 statewide questions were rejected by voters, including two that had the high-profile support of Gov. Bill Ritter and other top state Democrats. One other was losing late, though still too close to call.

Analysts said a sliding economy played a big role for several measures that called for tax increases or changed the way the state handles its revenues. Voters even clobbered a feel-good request to raise sales taxes to help the disabled, knocking it down by a 2-to-1 ratio.

Former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm summed it up: “In times of economic stress, people vote no on taxes ” that’s a no-brainer.”

The measures may also have been done in by their sheer numbers: 10 questions were petitioned onto the ballot and four were referred by the legislature.

That doesn’t count four pro-labor measures that appeared on the ballot but weren’t counted after sponsors abandoned them.

“My sense is that the more ballot issues there are, the more people are inclined to say ‘no’ to them all,” Lamm said, citing voter confusion and a better-safe-than-sorry approach.

Complexity also hurt. Voters already were dizzied by a months- long swirl of political ads. Then, they confronted often confusing language on the ballot.

“Amendments are extremely difficult to get ‘yeses’ out of,” said U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo. “They have to be the kind of amendment that everybody will vote yes to.”

Others in the crowd at post- election party for Democrats at the Sheraton Denver Hotel said the wording on the amendments was so confusing that voters just said no to all of them.

Record spending probably added to their demise. At last count, $68 million had been spent on various measures. That included a massive opposition campaign against anti-labor initiatives and an effort to kill a tax credit for the oil and gas industry.

The latter measure, Amendment 58, had the support of Ritter, who wanted to use the $300-plus million the proposal would have generated to fund college scholarships and environmental programs.

But it also faced some $12 million worth of industry attack ads that portrayed the measures as “a tax on us” ” overwhelming counterclaims that it would be very hard for the industry to simply pass on the tax when oil and natural gas are sold in global markets based on supply and demand.

Voters appeared to buy the energy industry’s argument. They were beating back the measure by about a 4-to-3 ratio with about half the votes counted.

“Initially, I thought (Amendment 58) looked really good, but I’m pretty sure (energy companies) are not going to take it out of their own pocket and (the tax) will all get passed on,” said Don Rasmussen, 37, of Thornton, after casting his ballot.

Arguably the most significant question was Amendment 59. It was an effort to carve up a major component of the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Right, or TABOR. Under TABOR, when government exceeds constitutional limits on revenues, leftover money is given back to the public through checks to taxpayers. TABOR also requires a vote on all proposals to increase taxes.

Amendment 59 left the latter part of TABOR alone but proposed changing the former by putting excess revenues into a state savings account for education instead of refunding them.

Though education was a winner in several school bond measures, voters were giving Amendment 59 a thumbs-down by about a 4-to-3 ratio.

Pollster Lori Weigel said the measures had “some unique dynamics on all of them,” that individually led to their defeat. But, she said, voters were also likely overwhelmed.

“I think we had a bit of information overload,” Weigel said. “That’s a really hard thing to get a message out on a normal year, much less on a year when people are focused on the president and the senate races.”

Also falling: a proposal to shift a state spending account from an emphasis on wildlife and water to road projects. Voters also were narrowly rejecting a measure to end preferential treatment on the basis of race, sex or ethnicity in Colorado and were clobbering an amendment that would legally define a fertilized egg as a person.

The winners? Two issues, one to allow gaming towns to increase gaming limits and funnel revenues to community colleges and one that would ban political contributions from unions or other groups with no-bid government contracts, were leading.

All the “no” votes came despite record spending for or against the measures ” the $68 million (and counting) amounting to the most ever spent on issue campaigns in Colorado history. The total was nearly five times the record of $14 million in 2004.

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