Ballot measures impact bill signed into law

Ballot measures impact bill signed into law

The Colorado Statesman

A new law will allow Colorado voters to know the fiscal impact of a ballot measure before petitions are circulated — a heavily debated effort that seemed doomed in the final hours of the recent legislative session.

The state had already been required to provide voters with cost-impact estimates of ballot measures, prior to an election. But House Bill 1057, which was signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday, accelerates that process so that voters will know a proposal’s cost before they are asked to sign a petition.

In addition to fiscal impact estimates appearing in voter Blue Book election guides, the new law requires that estimates of a measure’s impact on government revenues, spending, taxes and fiscal liabilities be summarized on initiative petitions.
“Shouldn’t we know what the fiscal impact is going to be if we are going to propose putting something into the Constitution?” said Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, a bill sponsor.

Court said that fiscal notes are attached to bills before being considered by lawmakers and that the public should be afforded that same information. The Colorado Legislative Council makes those calculations for lawmakers and is also responsible for preparing fiscal impact statements for ballot initiatives.

“This is about just making sure that we are going to strengthen democracy, that people have the real information so they know what the possible costs are going to be,” Hickenlooper said at the bill signing, held inside Denver’s History Colorado Center.

The bill received bipartisan sponsorship and support. Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, said voters deserve transparency before they are asked to sign a petition.

“I think transparency and accountability are even more important when we talk about a broad range initiative or referendum and this I think this contributes to it,” Cadman said.

But the bill’s road to the governor’s desk was a bumpy one, to say the least. Most of the bill opponents were Democrats, but there were a handful of Republicans who also had concerns.

“Every time we tinker with the right to petition, which is a constitutional right, we end up regretting it,” said Sen. David Balmer, R-Centennial, prior to voting no on May 5.

Balmer also said that had this law been in place in 1992, it would have been impossible to forecast the economic impact of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, including the provision that requires the state to return excess tax revenue to voters.

“Do you think the voters would have approved the TABOR amendment if they said it would cost, 3, 4 or 5 billion dollars?” said Balmer, a TABOR supporter.

Sen. Jesse Ulibarri, D-Westminster, also opposed the legislation. Ulibarri, who opposes TABOR, said that upfront notice of an initiative’s cost “lifts a line straight from TABOR” and is a sticker shock to voters who might otherwise be supportive of the merits of a proposal.
“Almost unanimously, we haven’t been able to receive voter approval for tax increases, for basic infrastructure,” Ulibarri said.

The bill actually died in the Senate on May 5, but passed on reconsideration after Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, changed his no vote to a yes.

Some Democratic senators tried unsuccessfully to get Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, to change his yes vote to a no. Johnston said at the bill signing that he believes the more information voters have, the better.

“I want to win because I believe I have the best argument once you have all the facts, not because I’ll win an argument when you don’t have all the facts,” he said.

The new law is a win for business groups that backed the measure, particularly for the oil and gas industry. They feel voters should know about economic impacts to the state when they are asked to sign petitions that would restrict oil and gas drilling.

“But this isn’t going to stop anybody from getting on the ballot,” said Stan Dempsey of the Colorado Petroleum Association. “It’s just going to make sure that the folks are reading the petition carefully and understanding there is a cost to most of these initiatives and they should think through that before signing.”

— Twitter @VicVela1

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