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State ballot is bulging at seams with questions

Consider this fair warning: your ballot for the Nov. 7 election will present a daunting dozen state questions.

Voters get only 10 minutes in the booth, so read this first and make up your mind.

You can avoid voting-booth paralysis by taking along a cheat sheet to the polls. Or vote at your leisure – early voting ballots will be available Oct. 23 through Nov. 6 at the local county clerk’s office.

The state ballot asks voters to consider eight constitutional additions and four statutory changes. Amendments are the result of citizen initiatives, while referenda have come from the state Legislature.

In all cases, a “yes” vote is a vote in favor of the change, a “no” vote is against it.

Here, in the order you’ll see them on the ballot, are the questions:

Amendment 20, Medical use of marijuana

The constitutional amendment would allow people with serious or chronic illnesses, such as cancer, glaucoma, AIDS and multiple sclerosis, to legally possess and grow marijuana for medical treatment.

It allows doctors to legally advise marijuana treatment and establishes a confidential, annual registry of patients and caregivers permitted to possess marijuana for medical treatment.

Medical use of marijuana would be restricted to private places, and insurance companies would not be required to reimburse claims.

Selling marijuana would remain illegal, and use and sales of marijuana would still be a federal crime.

On one hand, supporters argue that the measure gives doctors and patients another treatment option, and marijuana may be more effective and have fewer side effects than synthetic drugs. Other uses of marijuana would remain illegal.

On the other hand, opponents say prescription drugs meet the same need with a measured dose, and that marijuana can be addictive and carries its own bad health effects. They also argue that medication should be approved through research rather than a popular vote.

Amendment 21, Tax cuts

This constitutional amendment is the latest effort by anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce to curb government spending in Colorado.

It calls for increasing cuts to taxes of property, income, utility and vehicles on the grounds that taxes are too high.

The cuts start with $25 in the first year and grow to $50 in the second year, $75 in the third year and so on, until the tax is eliminated. Services may be eliminated, too, or paid for in some other way.

The $25 cuts apply to each taxing district on your property tax bill, including schools, fire protection, city and county government, hospitals, water and soil conservation.

Legislative Council, the research arm of the state Legislature, estimates that the constitutional amendment would cut $1.3 billion in state and local tax revenues by 2003.

Bruce contends that Colorado’s taxes are too high, and that families could save more than $550 a year. He argues that tax bills often increase by more than $25 a year, so many taxes will remain in place.

Meanwhile, the measure, he says, would trim unnecessary government spending, give fair tax relief to all income levels and build the state’s appeal to business.

Opponents include nearly every taxing authority in the state. They argue that local government agencies will lose nearly $4 billion in the first five years, closing the doors of libraries, police and fire stations and halting road repairs.

State government is expected to lose about $2 billion in five years, and state efforts to make up for lost local taxes for services like public education would further gouge existing state programs.

Opponents also contend that Colorado taxes are the 10th lowest in the country, and that other measures already provide permanent relief to taxpayers.

Amendment 22, Background checks at gun shows

Brought in response to the killings at Columbine High School, this amendment makes buyers and sellers at gun shows subject to the same background check rules that now apply at other gun dealerships.

It also requires gun-show sellers to keep track of all sales, rentals and exchanges.

The weapons used at Columbine were purchased at a gun show, and the sale might have been stopped if a standard background check was required.

Supporters say the measure would require a background check for every buyer at a gun show. And the record-keeping provisions ensure that guns purchased at a show and used in a crime could be traced back to the seller.

Opponents argue that the measure marks one more step toward gun registration, and that the added cost of background checks could make gun sales more difficult and shut some people out of the gun-show market.

Amendment 23, Funding for public schools

This constitutional measure boosts funding for the state’s public schools by tapping income tax refunds.

It would provide a dramatic infusion of $300 million to $600 million a year to schools to reduce class size, buy computers, offer performance incentives to teachers and build new schools. It would also sponsor programs such as those with school safety officers, special education, gifted education, vocational learning, health education, transportation and English as a second language.

Specifically, the plan calls for increasing school funding by the rate of inflation plus 1 percent for 10 years and by the rate of inflation thereafter. It also requires state aid to local schools to increase 5 percent a year. It taps income tax revenue to create a State Education Fund to finance the spending, which is over and above other spending limits.

It’s expected to cost the average taxpayer an extra $113 in the first year and $1,500 over the first 10 years.

Supporters say the added funding is needed to keep school funding at pace with inflation, to attract quality teachers and to help students be competitive in the 21st century.

Opponents say the measure costs too much, isn’t specific enough about spending and takes away flexibility in funding education. They argue that in spite of spending limits in place since 1992, school funding has increased by $1 billion, or 49 percent.

Amendment 24, Voter approval of growth

Probably the most controversial measure on the ballot, this amendment requires local governments to win voter approval for areas of future growth. Governments must also supply voters with information about the costs of growth when new development is sought.

The constitutional amendment exempts counties with less than 10,000 people and towns of less than 1,000 and allows counties with fewer than 25,000 people to vote to exempt themselves for four years at a time.

Garfield and Eagle counties would come directly under the amendment’s mandates, however. In Garfield County, more than 60 subdivision and development plans were filed in September to beat the amendment’s constraints.

Supporters argue that growth and sprawl are out of control in Colorado, and that voters should have a voice on new development. They say the measure promotes compact development instead of sprawl, lowering the costs of building infrastructure and maintaining the state’s high quality of life.

Opponents say the measure will hurt the state’s economy and business climate, could decrease the value of farms and ranches, and would cost local governments up to $60 million to comply. They argue that the amendment is an inflexible plan that will be tested for years in the courts.

Amendment 25, Requirements for consent to abortion

This amendment to state law invokes a 24-hour waiting period before women can receive an abortion. It requires doctors or other health care professionals to first present specific information to women about the risks, benefits and alternatives to abortion.

The information must include a complete description of the abortion procedure and details about the gestation and characteristics of the fetus at the time of abortion.

Medical emergencies are excepted.

It also requires doctors to report the number of standard and emergency abortions performed each year, and the number of women who decided against an abortion after getting the information.

Supporters say some women will not seek out such information and may make a decision that they will regret later.

Opponents say it’s a government intrusion into a woman’s personal decision and a doctor’s medical practice, and that in most cases women wait 24 hours or longer after first talking to a doctor before getting abortions anyway.

Referendum A, Property tax reduction for senior citizens

Also known as the “homestead exemption,” this constitutional amendment would cut the taxable value of homes owned by senior citizens by up to 50 percent, not to exceed $100,000, for homes they have owned and lived in for the previous 10 years.

For example, the owners of a $200,000 home would typically pay $1,560 in property taxes. Under the homestead exemption, the tax bill would drop to $780.

The benefits decrease, however, for higher-valued homes. The owner of a $500,000 home typically pays $3,900 in taxes. Under the exemption, the bill would drop to $3,120.

It also requires state government to reimburse local taxing districts for any revenue losses resulting from the reduction.

It’s expected to cost the state $44 million in the first year and increase by $2.3 million a year after that. Other taxpayers would shell out an average of $15 more in higher income taxes to offset the reduction for seniors.

Supporters say most seniors have low and fixed incomes, and they have a hard time paying taxes on rising property values. It would prevent seniors from being forced out of their communities.

Opponents say it would benefit wealthy seniors, and that seniors already benefit from other state tax relief. Furthermore, they argue that seniors would be more likely to approve property tax increases, knowing they would pay a smaller share than other property owners.

Referendum B, Legislative reapportionment timetable

This constitutional amendment steps up the timing to redraw the boundaries for state House and Senate districts, which is done every 10 years after the federal census.

At present, the 11-member Reapportionment Commission works from July 1 to March 15. This measure starts the process on April 15 and sets a new deadline of Feb. 15, allowing county clerks to redraw precinct boundaries before April caucuses.

Referendum C, Selection of county surveyors

County surveyors are often in short supply, and this constitutional amendment allows county commissioners to appoint a county surveyor rather than requiring the surveyor to be elected.

Garfield County has already exempted its county surveyor from term limits. This measure takes one more step to depoliticize the office.

Referendum D, Outdated constitutional provisions

Anachronisms in the state Constitution, including those dealing with Prohibition, jobs such as constable and justice of the peace, early restrictions on railroads and other provisions that have expired or are outdated would be removed.

Referendum E, Multi-state lotteries

This is Colorado’s chance to tie into the big-dollar Powerball lottery and other such ventures.

It caps the amount of revenues from multi-state lotteries that can go to Great Outdoors Colorado and earmarks the spillover for health and safety projects at public schools.

Supporters argue that Powerball would generate more revenues for parks and recreation, as well as providing a new funding source for school buildings.

They also say it’s the only way for Colorado residents to play for large jackpots without traveling to other states.

Opponents say Colorado has enough gambling, and adding Powerball to the options would worsen the social and family problems that result from compulsive gambling.

They also contend that the state has already pledged $190 million over the next decade to upgrade school buildings, and that the measure sets no criteria to distribute the new revenues.

Referendum F, Excess state revenue for math and science grants

This final bid from the state Legislature would allow Colorado to keep and spend the first $50 million over its present constitutional revenue limit to benefit math and science programs in public schools.

The five-year program would target schools in low-income areas and those with low test scores and programs with the greatest potential for boosting academic performance in math and science.

A 16-member review committee would award the grants to school districts.

The measure would cost the average taxpayer $18 a year.

Supporters say higher achievement in math and science is critical for students who will soon enter the state’s workforce. It encourages school districts to develop innovative programs and would help schools struggling the most to meet math and science standards.

Opponents say the plan lacks accountability and that five years of grants will leave schools hanging when the funding dries up. They also say school districts must use their existing revenues more wisely rather than tapping taxpayers for more money.


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