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2021 Annual Ballot Measure Guide

While it is an off year for major elections, there are some important measures on the ballot in Denver and Colorado this year. Which means it is time for CGH’s Annual Ballot Measure Guide!

At CGH, we intend to spend our careers fighting for justice. We understand that the fight for justice must take place beyond just the courtroom. When we formed our law firm, we agreed we would never shy away from political issues and would instead donate time and money fighting to improve the lives of ordinary people. To that end, these are our endorsements for the State of Colorado Ballot Measures and Constitutional Amendments. We will be doing our endorsements for the City and County of Denver Ballot Measures shortly, so stay tuned for those!

Amendment 78: VOTE NO! Most money received by the State of Colorado comes from Colorado taxpayers. That money, in turn, is allocated by the legislature and then spent by the executive branch. Sometimes, however, like during the COVID pandemic, the State receives money directly from the federal government or from other sources like a defendant in a lawsuit or a grant from a private organization. That money generally flows directly to executive branch agencies and is spent without specific appropriation from the legislature. Amendment 78 would change that and require legislative approval for all state expenditures, even if the money came for a specific purpose directly from the federal government. While we generally support the legislature allocating revenue (because of representative democracy and all that), this law simply adds an unnecessary step that will delay the appropriation of needed funds. Imagine if the federal government gave us money to fight wildfires. Instead of the Governor being able to spend that money the day it arrives, we would have to call a special session and debate how to spend it for weeks or even months. Moreover, if organizations know we won’t spend the money right away and instead plan to engage in prolonged debate, they probably won’t give us funds in the first place. The reality is this is a drop in the bucket of the total money received by the State of Colorado. We are comfortable allowing the Governor, elected by the entire state, to make those decisions quickly. If voters don’t like it, they can always vote for a different governor in the next election. That is enough of a check and balance in this limited and unique situation.

Proposition 119: VOTE NO! Prop. 119 would raise taxes on retail marijuana sales and use that money to fund out-of-school learning and enrichment activities for children across Colorado. We are supportive of the program. Extracurricular activities are wonderful and provide awesome experiences for kids. We also understand that those opportunities aren’t always equal and often depend on the wealth of a community. It is simple reality that kids in Cherry Creek get more opportunities than kids from poor districts. We also don’t put much stock in the argument that this diverts money from public schools. If private entities are providing extracurricular opportunities open to all students, that is a win in our book. Our objection to this proposal stems from its funding stream, specifically yet another tax on marijuana sales. Right now, black market prices for marijuana in Colorado are lower than what you pay in a dispensary because dispensaries have to comply with costly regulations and taxes. Since the quality is better, many people still buy legally even though the cost is a little higher. But that balance is fragile. If the cost of legal marijuana continues to rise, more and more people will simply buy their marijuana on the black market, ruining all the gains we have made. Moreover, this type of sin tax is inherently regressive, taxing poor and rich Coloradoans at the same rate. We love this program and would support an income or business tax increase to fund it. But we reject the dangerous idea that marijuana tax revenue is essentially unlimited and can be used to fund every worthwhile program. It may be possible to increase marijuana taxes several years down the road as prices continue to fall, but we aren’t there yet and it will be  difficult to support any marijuana tax funded program until we are.

Proposition 120: VOTE NO! Prop. 120 is a complicated measure dealing with property tax rates that is heading towards years of litigation if it manages to pass this year. The plain language version is that it will lower the property tax rate for both residential and commercial properties. This would have a terrible impact on local government services like firefighters. Seeing this terrible idea coming, all the Democrats and a chunk of Republicans banded together and passed SB21-293 last year, cutting property taxes by more manageable levels. Prop. 120, which was already headed to the ballot, was based on the old tax rates. Hence, even if it passes, there are going to be lawsuits about whether it can go into effect since the tax rates it changed technically no longer exist as of election day. At the end of the day, this is simply bad policy. To put it in the words of Republican State Senator Bob Rankin “Do we really want to cut the budget for fire districts? I mean, really. That’s what will happen.” No, no we don’t, Sen. Rankin. Vote no.