From The Denver Post (John Frank):
An organization backed by prominent Colorado leaders is moving toward ballot initiatives in 2016 to roll back the state’s TABOR spending caps and make it harder to amend the constitution…
The bipartisan organization tested support for the issues in a December statewide poll and recently began drafting ballot language for the potential initiatives as it prepares to conclude a five-month listening tour in January.
“I think people recognize that there’s a problem that needs to be dealt with … and therefore, there is more enthusiasm for a solution,” said Reeves Brown, the project’s director.
The move to eliminate the inflation-plus-population revenue limit in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights likely would include a provision to direct surplus money that would have gone to taxpayer refunds to certain priority areas, rather than give state lawmakers free reign to spend it…
And the desire to revamp the initiative process to amend the state constitution likely would involve two elements: a super-majority to win approval and a requirement that petition signatures come from different areas of Colorado.
The tentative proposals, organizers say, represent the areas with the strongest support among the 1,500 civic and business leaders who participated in roughly two-dozen meetings across the state and the 3,500 surveys submitted online.
Brown emphasized that the final outcome remains uncertain, but it’s clear the organization is making a push to tackle some of the most contentious political issues in Colorado, despite initially suggesting it would focus on subtle, nuanced changes…
Colorado’s top elected leaders are largely reserving judgment on the issue. In a statement, Gov. John Hickenlooper said he is looking forward to seeing the end result but “it’s too early to weigh in on potential ballot issues.”
House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst said she is waiting to see the final ballot language, but said she supports the TABOR overhaul and initiative process changes. “Only by investing in our priorities can we build for our future prosperity,” the Boulder Democrat said in a statement…
The one idea the group did not entertain from the start is the complete repeal of TABOR, in particular the constitutional requirement that voters approve all tax hikes. However, the project’s leader said he was surprised at the level of support for removing the revenue caps, which restrict state budget spending and provide taxpayer refunds in boom years.
“There’s an increasing percentage of the electorate (for which) TABOR is not as sacrosanct as it was to some,” Brown said.
Brown said the idea has more support among likely voters when coupled with “a prescription on how it would be spent.”
The state’s current budget situation, in which it is issuing taxpayer refunds but facing spending cuts, is a motivating factor, he said.
Chris Watney, the president at the nonprofit Colorado Children’s Campaign, applauded the move. “Having more ability to invest and more flexibility in how we do so, I do think would have a positive impact on things like education and health care,” she said.
Still, the potential ballot initiative would prove hugely controversial, particularly given the emphasis from Republicans and conservatives on protecting the TABOR limits…
The effort to change the state’s initiative process may prove just as contentious. The current system allows residents to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot with signatures from roughly 100,000 registered voters and win approval with a simple majority vote.
Building a Better Colorado is considering a requirement for a super-majority vote for new initiatives — but maintaining a simple majority to change amendments that received prior voter approval. The organization is discussing a two-thirds threshold but may put the bar as low as 55 percent.
An idea to require more signatures for constitutional initiatives is another possibility, although the poll found it didn’t get much traction among likely voters, Brown said.