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John Colson: A Colorado ‘solution’ looking for a problem

John Colson
Hit & Run

It’s nearly election day in Colorado, and at least one of the state ballot questions facing voters Nov. 2 is in need of some explanation.

Amendment 78, as I see it, essentially is little more than a fiscally oriented pissing match between the state legislature and the administration of Gov. Jared Polis.

And, as often is the case in intragovernmental pissing contests, the law of unintended consequences looms in the background, since proposals such as this have a history of being not very well thought out, and of causing massive governmental headaches long after the pissing match has ended.



I’m thinking, for example, of the old TABOR Amendment, otherwise known as the Taxpayer Bill Of Rights or the Bruce Amendment, named for Douglas Bruce, the slumlord and government-hating hack who got the TABOR Act on the statewide ballot back in the early 1990s.

Although TABOR was characterized at the time as a simple anti-tax measure aimed at trimming the fat from governmental coffers, it actually was a stealth missile intended to throttle state government over the long haul, which Bruce sought as a way to keep the government off his back.




As far as I can tell, Amendment 78 is just another effort to hogtie a popular elected official whose fiscal actions in office have pissed off certain factions of the legislature.

To explain: A little over a year ago, as reported by The Colorado Sun, it came out that Polis was using money from private sources (meaning wealthy, politically progressive donors) outside the state’s tax funds to pay for staffers working on a number of his pet issues, including addressing climate change, dealing with immigration issues, and paying for early childhood education.

As it turns out, Polis’ use of this private-funding model to pay for staff positions is in line with his recent predecessors’ use of the same model, both Democrats and Republicans.

So, what’s the big deal, you might be asking.

For one thing, the proposal is a solution looking for a nonexistent problem — this is how our government has functioned for a long time, and the amendment is basically a move by certain disgruntled politicians to give themselves control over all spending by the state, even if it is not necessary or even productive.

Plus, it turns out that Amendment 78 has been the brainchild of basically one man, conservative political activist Michael Shields. This is a guy who at one time reportedly worked for the foundation created by the infamously big-spending Koch brothers, Charles and David, who worked and spent lavishly and relentlessly in support of various right-wing causes, policy initiatives and politicians.

But what’s good for the goose, apparently, is not also good for the gander, since Polis is benefiting from the very same kind of support from the Kochs that helped, for example, former Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin gerrymander his way into office and pollute the state’s politics in ways we won’t fully understand for years.

Seems the red side of the bench has its own view of which causes and personalities deserve private financial support, which definitely does not include Polis or any other left-leaning politician in this country.

In reading over the 2021 State Ballot Information Booklet’s treatment of Amendment 78, the first thing I noticed was that it is deeply bureaucratic in its language, thereby guaranteeing that it will bore the living hell out of many readers and, therefore, may not be well understood by an unpredictable percentage of voters.

Boiled down to its bare essences, Amendment 78 would take away from state agencies, other institutions and the governor’s office itself, any and all authority to spend what are called “custodial” funds, or money contributed to the state by private interests, the federal government and other sources.

Certain factions within the legislature have long sought to undermine the governor’s independent grip on money matters, but existing state law going back to the 1970s has concluded that it is within the governor’s powers to be in control of such funds and of any interest earned from those funds.

And I believe it is that last bit — control of earned interest — that is the true target of this amendment.

According to news reports, even some Democrats in the statehouse want to get their hands on this money, which can then be turned into the kind of fiscal weaponry that so often ties legislation into knots as bills are debated and often defanged, as partisans make deals to excise objectionable portions of proposed laws.

Seen in that light, one of the most troublesome outcomes of enactment of Amendment 78 is that it would be a big step in forcing Colorado to move toward a full-time legislature, rather than the part-time nature of the body today.

Passage also would add potentially millions of dollars worth of additional bureaucratic staff to handle the paperwork load imposed by the new law.

All in all, I think Amendment 78, while it may ultimately become something worth serious consideration, is too much of a political stunt and potential bad bet for it to win voter support on Election Day.

jbcolson51@gmail.com


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