Colorado voters Tuesday turned down new taxes for schools and roads, while handing the energy industry a split decision on two controversial oil and gas measures.
With roughly 1.9 million votes counted, out of about 2.4 million cast, Proposition 112 and Amendment 74 have both failed. The oil and gas industry Tuesday night was celebrating the defeat of 112, which would have required drilling sites to be set back 2,500 feet from buildings and waterways — effectively eliminating major swaths of potential business areas. Amendment 74 would have allowed property owners to sue for compensation if government actions lowered the value of their land.
“This is a great night for our state,” said Colorado Petroleum Council Executive Director Tracee Bentley. “Colorado plays a leading role in America’s energy revolution, and our state has spoken loud and clear that we recognize the importance of the industry to the state’s economic well-being.”
Bentley said “messaging” was an important reason Proposition 112 failed to sway voters. “We were able to afford to put the message out to voters, and I’m very unapologetic about it because voters needed to know about what this measure really was.”
Coloradans were given the choice to fund education and transportation through new taxes, and they resoundingly rejected both ideas: Amendment 73, an income tax for education, lost big, and so did two competing measures that sought different ways to fund transportation improvements.
Voters in Colorado had to study up on 13 measures, more than any other state.
Here are the results we have so far from the secretary of state:
- For: 43.2%
- Against: 56.8%
No ballot measure in Colorado was more hotly contested this cycle than Proposition 112, which sought to set back new oil and gas development 2,500 feet from a “vulnerable” structure, such as a home or school building. The current required setback is 500 feet from any building, and at least 1,000 feet from any “high occupancy” building, such as a school or office building.
Proposition 112 was backed by a grassroots committee called Colorado Rising, which had the support of politicians including Al Gore and Bernie Sanders and of climate-minded progressive organizations such as Progress Now and 350.org. State records show it raised about $1.3 million.
Russell Mendell, an organizer for Colorado Rising, said the grassroots campaign had “very positive response,” although he said opponents spread a great deal of misinformation about the measure. “For example, a lot of people came up to us saying, ‘If we pass this, won’t it hurt our school?’ That just was a campaign claim the other side used that just wasn’t based in truth,” Mendell said. “We did everything we could to get our message out, and regardless of the results tonight, we’re moving the narrative.”
Tricia Olson, Colorado Rising president, said her group was up against “a campaign that spent $40 million and twisted the facts, claiming that it would institute a ban and that it would destroy more jobs than are connected with the industry.”
Colorado Rising’s $1.3 million is just a fraction of the amount of money the oil and gas industry spent opposing a measure they fear would do enormous harm to their business prospects in Colorado, and lead to tens of thousands of job cuts.
Protect Colorado, the oil and gas industry-backed issue committee which worked to defeat Proposition 112, took in more than $34 million, mostly from energy corporations and industry groups. It’s been nearly impossible to miss their ads, which have blanketed billboards, airwaves and mailboxes for weeks. Tuesday night, Protect Colorado supporters watched returns on the third floor of the Hyatt Regency in a ballroom brightly decorated with orange “No on 112” signs.
- For: 44.5%
- Against: 55.5%
Amendment 73 proposed an increase in funding for Colorado’s K-12 schools through a progressive income tax on residents earning more than $150,000 per year.
Amendment 73 would have boosted the corporate income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 6 percent and the income tax rate on a varying schedule, between 5 percent and 8.25 percent for people earning more than $150,000. Those earning at least $500,000 would pay the most.
Colorado ranks 28th in the country for per-student public funding, according to the National Education Association, and some districts are suffering much more than others. One hundred out of 178 Colorado school districts now have four-day weeks to save money.
Amendment 73 would have raised an estimated $1.6 billion.
The measure was backed by an issue committee called “Great Schools, Thriving Communities,” funded by teachers’ unions and education advocacy groups. It raised about $1.5 million. Opponents raised roughly the same amount of money — $1.4 million — and their committee is called “Blank Check. Blatant Deception. Vote no on 73.” The opposition was supported by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the conservative PAC Colorado Economic Leadership Fund and the conservative advocacy group Ready Colorado.
- For: 40.3%
- Against: 59.7%
The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce was the major backer of Proposition 110, called “Let’s Go Colorado.” This measure aimed to improve roads and transportation by boosting the state’s sales tax rate from 2.9 percent to 3.52 percent for the next 20 years, raking in more than $750 million in projected revenue annually. About $115 million a year would go to alternative means of travel, including bike paths and bus routes.
The measure also would have allowed Colorado to borrow up to $6 billion next year to kickstart transportation improvements, but it would require a limit of $9.4 billion in total repayment.
- For: 38.7%
- Against: 61.3%
This measure, introduced by the libertarian Independence Institute, would have borrowed $3.5 billion through bonding for as many as 66 different highway projects, with a built-in limit of $5.2 billion for total repayment on these projects over the next two decades. Colorado would have to find this money by either raising taxes or fees or cutting funding elsewhere. The measure is called “Fix Our Damn Roads.”
Critics worried the repayments would result in the state having to take funding away from schools, health care or other priorities.
This measure was seen as a competitor to Proposition 110; both measures sought to increase funding to address the state’s enormous backlog of transportation infrastructure projects, but they offered very different methods.
- For: 46.4%
- Against: 53.6%
Amendment 74 seemed less harmful, many believe, than it actually was. It read: “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado Constitution requiring the government to award just compensation to owners of private property when a government law or regulation reduces the fair market value of the property?”
Opponents believed this measure was, as one campaign ad said, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and a mechanism to allow endless lawsuits by individuals and industry who believe the government, under Amendment 74, owes them for losses they incur on their property because of government action. It was widely seen as insurance for farmers and mineral rights owners in case Proposition 112 passed and decreased the number of locations oil and gas drilling could occur, presumably lowering many properties’ values.
The Colorado Farm Bureau, with financial backing from the oil and gas sector, introduced the measure and billed it as a way to “level the playing field.”
Those opposing the measure — Bernie Sanders said recently it was one of the most dangerous in the country this year — said it would effectively give business leverage over government and hamstring legislators’ ability to pass most climate change regulation.
This measure attracted big money. Protect Colorado, the backer of the measure, spent about $11 million. The group paying for ads had a different name: the Committee for Colorado’s Shared Heritage.
Amendment 74’s opposition group, Save Our Neighborhoods, raised $6.6 million from environmental groups such as Conservation Colorado and the League of Conservation Voters and from the social welfare organization Sixteen Thirty Fund, which is based in Washington, D.C.
- For: 76.7%
- Against: 23.3%
Proposition 111, the most popular among Colorado’s 13 ballot measures, will limit the total interest and fees charged by Colorado payday lenders to 36 percent. The state’s average rate was 129 percent in 2016 — almost eight times higher than the record-high 17.07 percentage rate (APR) on a credit card.
Payday lending disproportionately targets poor and minority communities, often exacerbating financial hardships by luring in customers who simply cannot afford to pay back the loans they take.
But the interest and fees on those loans are so high, Proposition 111’s supporters note, precisely because the customers are so risky for the institution. That so many struggle to pay back the loans is evidence, they say, of the fact that the interest and fees need to be high in order for the payday lenders not to take on an untenable amount of financial risk.
- For: 32.9%
- Against: 66.1%
Amendment 75, the “millionaire rule,” aimed to curb big money in politics, though opponents believed it would do just the opposite.
Colorado has relatively low limits on how much individuals can donate to a candidate for office. Right now it’s $1,150, well below the national median of about $3,800. The amount a candidate can give to his or her own campaign, however, is unlimited, and Coloradans just witnessed Democrat Jared Polis take full advantage of that rule, pouring about $23 million into his gubernatorial bid.
The proposed measure said that if a candidate for office in Colorado put more than $1 million of his or her own money into the race, all other candidates in that same election would be allowed to raise five times the limit for individual donations under the law — $5,750 instead of $1,150 from individuals.
Supporters said they wanted to level the playing field, while opponents believed it would only lead to more big spending in Colorado elections.
- For: 65%
- Against: 35%
Amendment A will finally, formally make all forms of slavery illegal in Colorado. It removes language in the Colorado Constitution stating that slavery and involuntary servitude can be legal as punishments for criminals.
The effort had no formal opposition, though it did fail when it was placed on the ballot in 2016. The measure was written so unclearly that many Coloradans had no idea what they were voting on, and ultimately it lost by less than a percentage point.
This time around, the group Abolish Slavery Colorado returned with much clearer language and broad support.
- For: 34.9%
- Against: 65.1%
State legislators in Colorado must be at least 25 years old to serve. Amendment V would have lowered the age to 21. Current lawmakers put this one on the ballot, which means at least two-thirds of them wanted voters to weigh in.
Voters already weighed in a decade ago, rejecting an identical question.
Those who supported the measure — including the advocacy group New Era Colorado, which has been a pipeline in recent years for some of Colorado’s youngest Democratic politicians — said it was a way to improve representation in the legislature. Opposing arguments typically centered on the idea that 21-year-olds may not be mature enough to serve.
- For: 53.3%
- Against: 46.7%
Amendment W changes the Colorado Constitution to amend the way judicial retention questions appear on ballots.
It may have attracted the least attention of all the 13 statewide ballot measures.
In Colorado, voters get to decide whether appointed judges should retain their seats, and many voters approach that task clueless as to how the judges they’re assessing are performing. Six years ago, about a quarter of voters in Colorado left the judicial retention questions blank.
This measure doesn’t change the fact that voters get to decide on judicial retention. It simply changes how those retention questions appear on ballots. Here’s a look at the proposed changes:
- For: 60.7%
- Against: 39.3%
Colorado was the first in the country to legalize the sale and consumption of recreational marijuana. But it was at risk of falling behind the times in hemp regulation.
Lawmakers here agreed during the last session to ask voters whether Colorado should remove the definition of “industrial hemp” from the state constitution.
Supporters of this measure say trashing the existing definition of industrial hemp in our constitution and instead making that definition automatically align with the federal definition allows Colorado’s hemp growers to more easily stay in step with federal policy and be competitive in the burgeoning hemp industry. Had the measure failed, it may have put the state at a disadvantage and caused compliance issues down the line.
There was no organized opposition to the measure.
- For: 71.2%
- Against: 28.8%
Amendments Y and Z are twin measures that together change the way Colorado draws and approves district lines for elected offices. It will make the panel that draws districts less partisan by taking the job from the legislature and giving it to a group of people equally comprised of Democrats, Republicans and independents.
Amendment Y represents congressional maps and Amendment Z represents the maps for the state House and Senate.
These measures are aimed at curbing the practice of having politicians draw district lines that often intentionally help one party over another. This is known as gerrymandering.
Amendments Y and Z were created by, then supported by, a bipartisan group of civic leaders and politicians.
- For: 70.1%
- Against: 29.9%
See Amendment Y
Taran Volckhausen contributed to this report.