This year, voters are being asked to weigh in on 13 big questions that would change state laws or the Constitution, from limiting fracking to how to pay for education and transportation.
These voter-led initiatives are how the state ended up with legalized marijuana and its budget-limiting Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights — both deep and sweeping policy changes that dramatically reshaped Colorado when passed in 2012 and 1992, respectively.
Amendments make changes to the state’s Constitution and require 55 percent of the vote to pass; propositions change state law and only need simple majorities to pass.
So, with ballots out in the mail today, the new policies that may guide our state into its future are in your hands.
The gubernatorial candidates haven’t weighed in on all of them publicly, but they have come out for or against — or remain neutral on — some of the questions getting the most attention. Here’s what we know so far:
Proposition 112 to limit fracking
Both candidates oppose this measure, which has become perhaps the most contentious question on this year’s ballot. The change to state law would set back oil-and-gas drill rigs 2,500 feet from homes or other “vulnerable” structures in Colorado. The current law is 500 feet.
Speaking at a Denver oil-and-gas industry conference in August, Polis said he opposed the measure, and adding that he would want to work to enact “stronger” setbacks as a backstop if landowners and operators can’t reach an agreement over land use. He called such agreements “a common source of income for farmers and ranchers,” and said they should have a say “over where surface impact occurs on their land so that it doesn’t interfere with their main livelihood.”
Polis once championed a ballot measure that would have set back drillers 2,000 feet from homes. He also then made sure that 2014 measure didn’t make the ballot as part of a major compromise with Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was up for reelection that year.
Stapleton has used that history as a bludgeon on the campaign trail. “As a numbers guy, I know that 2,500 is not 2,000, but it also isn’t too far off, either,” Stapleton has said, also pointing out that the Colorado Democratic Party officially supports the measure.
Asked during a summer candidate forum to clarify his views on Prop 112, given he supported previous ballot efforts for increased setbacks, but opposes the current one, Polis said, “I think people kind of understand that I try to push where I can to protect our health and safety, for greater setbacks that allow property owners to have more rights, and people also realize that I have to operate in the political arena where we, to accomplish things, they often involve compromise.”
Months later, when a debate moderator pointed out the state Democratic Party supports Prop 112 and asked Polis if he would sign legislation that looks like ballot measures he backed in 2014, Polis sidestepped the question, saying “climate change isn’t just an abstract issue, it’s already affecting important Colorado industries, like agriculture, like the ski industry. It affects our water … so we need to act and we need to act now.” He said if he becomes governor and Prop 112 passes it’s the will of the people and it’s the job of the governor to support the will of the people.
Stapleton, a fierce defender of Colorado’s oil-and-gas industry, has called this year’s Prop 112 measure an “energy ban,” and he has called current air and water quality standards “absolutely” sufficient.
Asked during the final debate on Oct. 23 how close he would like to see drilling near his home in Greenwood Village, Stapleton said “exactly where it is right now,” meaning the state law of 500 feet.
Amendment 74 to require governments pay just compensation to private property owners if a law or regulation reduces a fair market value
This one has some towns and cities scared and has confounded even one conservative newspaper editorial board. The Gazette in Colorado Springs, which initially supported the measure, reversed itself after further research and published a mea culpa under a headline reading, “We were wrong.”
Fronted by the Farm Bureau, the measure, which would change the state’s Constitution, is backed by the oil-and-gas industry, likely as an insurance policy if Prop 112 passes. The law would allow mineral rights owners to ask for money they might have lost if drilling on their land isn’t allowed. But the law wouldn’t just apply to mineral rights. Critics worry it would have sweeping unintended consequences and might prevent local governments from rezoning or issuing permits, out of fear that residents or businesses would sue on the grounds that regulations sapped property values.
Polis is against the measure, saying at The Energy Summit in August that it “threatens our way of life.” He said the measure would “prevent any guidelines that help ensure our neighborhoods remain livable, enjoyable places to raise your kids. It would have far-reaching ramifications well beyond oil and gas development.”
He asked the industry representatives before him, “Does anybody in this room really believe that local government or state government should not be able to zone for hog farms, cannabis, or strip clubs?”
A Stapleton campaign spokesman said in August the candidate supports the concept behind the measure but was still reviewing it “to fully understand the ramifications” of what it would do. During the final debate, held on Oct. 23 in Denver, Stapleton said, “I’m for individual property rights but I would look to the legislature to fix this so it doesn’t become something like conservation easements and get taken advantage of.”
Amendment 73 to raise corporate taxes and tax wealthier Coloradans to pay for education
Here’s one where Stapleton is ”adamantly opposed” and Polis says he has “not endorsed.”
The measure, if passed, would change Colorado’s Constitution to raise income taxes at a graduated rate on those who make between $150,000 and $500,000 per year and raise the corporate income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 6 percent. The aim is to haul in $1.6 billion to increase per-pupil funding, fund all-day kindergarten, and increase pre-school, special education and other funding.
Polis, who has made free, universal, all-day pre-K and kindergarten a major tenet of his campaign since the day he launched his bid, has not thrown his support behind this ballot measure as a way to achieve that goal. He has said he thinks the state Constitution is already too cluttered.
“It’s not exactly what I would do or how I would form it, but if the people decide to move forward with that, I would make sure those resources reach the classroom and that charter schools were treated fairly,” he has said.
When Polis was asked if he supported or opposed the measure during a recent debate, he said he has “not endorsed” it. Stapleton, who opposes the measure, pounced. “What does that mean?” he demanded. “I thought it was a yes or no question.” Stapleton has said he doesn’t believe there is enough accountability in how the money will be spent if the measure passes, and he has fought against tax increases for education in the past.
Proposition 110 to raise the sales and use tax to pay for transportation and infrastructure
Polis hasn’t taken a position and Stapleton opposes this measure, which would raise the sales tax rate from 2.9 percent to 3.52 percent for 20 years and allow Colorado to borrow up to $6 billion next year to pay for transportation projects. The total repayment amount for the bonds, including interest, would be limited to $9.4 billion and would have to be paid out over the next two decades.
Polis has said raising the sales and use tax is “not how I would pay for it,” but he says he respects members of the business community who helped come up with the measure, which is backed by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Stapleton said he opposes it because “60 cents on the dollar goes to roads and bridges and we need 100 cents to go to roads and bridges.”
Proposition 109 to use bonds to pay for transportation and infrastructure
Stapleton supports and Polis opposes this measure, which goes by the moniker “Fix Our Damn Roads” and is championed by the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute. The change in state law would require Colorado to borrow up to $3.5 billion for up to 66 specific highway projects, limiting the total amount to $5.2 billion over the next two decades. Colorado would also have to come up with a source of money to repay the borrowed amount and could only do so without raising taxes or fees.
“I oppose going deeper into debt without a dedicated funding source,” Polis has said about Prop 109. “It would create billions of dollars in debt for our state the taxpayers are responsible for. … I think if you’re going to fund something you have to figure out to pay for it up front.”
Asked during a debate how Colorado, were a recession to hit, might pay the $260 million a year that would come out of the state budget to repay bonds under this measure — and what programs he would be willing to cut — Stapleton said he would “find the money.”
“I’m going to find more dedicated sources of revenue from our general fund,” he added. Stapleton said some of that would come from making the state’s transportation department more accountable, and he’s also said that if the legislature allows sports betting he would support taxing it to pay for transportation.
Amendment 75 to allow candidates to accept more money if a candidate directs $1 million into a race
This is one measure that Polis, who has spent more than $22 million of his own money on the race since he started running, says he plans to vote for. If passed, the measure would change the state Constitution to allow candidates to accept donations five-times the current limit if another candidate in the race “directs” $1 million into the contest. Call it the “millionaire rule.” Stapleton said in the final debate that he supports the ballot measure to “even the playing field.”
Colorado has relatively low limits on how much individuals can donate to a candidate for office. Right now it’s $1,150. The national median is around $3,800. The amount a candidate can give to his or her own campaign, however, is unlimited because the U.S. Supreme Court has said so. If the measure passes and a candidate triggers the new law, every other candidate in the race would be able to raise $5,750 instead of $1,150 from each of their supporters. Of course, it also would allow that same self-funding candidate to take in five times as much money directly, too.
“I’ll be voting for it,” Polis has said. “On the margins, I think it improves things, but I would be clear it doesn’t really change the fact that it puts too much influence in the hands of the wealthy and powerful.”