Club 20 takes ballot measure stands

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Despite the increasingly diverse and polarized politics of its membership, Western Slope lobby Club 20 has taken positions on 11 of 18 statewide measures that will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Club 20 - a political coalition of Colorado's 22 western counties and other municipality, business and individual members - chose to support only one measure, Referendum O. Its reason for supporting Referendum O is also a reason why it opposes some of the others: Club 20 thinks the state constitution is being abused. Executive Director Reeves Brown laid out Club 20's ballot measure positions at a meeting of the Routt County caucus Wednesday night.

Referendum O would make it harder to place constitutional initiatives on the ballot, while providing incentives for advocates to propose statutory initiatives instead. The former can be modified or repealed only by another vote of the people. The latter can be modified or repealed by the state Legislature.

As it stands, Brown said power has been stripped from the Legislature and put in the ballot box, with advocates abusing the constitution to achieve special interests.

"We think we have neutered our representative democracy," Brown said. "We have the most easily amendable constitution in the nation. If it's about kids or it's about furry things, it's got a good chance of passing."

Unintended consequences of past constitutional initiatives, Brown said, have put the state in "fiscal handcuffs." Brown said Club 20's stance that the state shouldn't "budget with the constitution" is why it is opposing Amendment 52, despite the fact that the amendment would accomplish two things the coalition very much wants: dedicated funding for transportation projects with an emphasis on relieving congestion on Interstate 70, and preservation of local government's share of mineral severance-tax revenues.

Club 20 also opposes the other ballot measure related to severance tax, Amendment 58. The amendment would increase the amount of state severance taxes paid by oil and gas companies and devote the increased earnings to college scholarships for state residents, wildlife habitat, renewable energy projects, transportation projects and water-treatment grants. It would reduce the amount of severance tax collections that go to local governments impacted by oil and gas development from 50 percent to 22 percent.

Whether energy-impacted communities would see more or less dollars depends on whether the increase in severance tax collections is large enough to compensate for the percentage decrease. Brown said a Club 20 study showed that in six of the past seven years, the communities would have received less under the Amendment 58 formula. A financial analysis in the 2008 State Ballot Information Book, or Blue Book, projects local governments would receive $2 million less from 2009 to 2012 if Amendment 58 passes.

Club 20 is opposing labor-related amendments 47 and 54. The group also opposed amendments 53, 55, 56, 57, which have since been pulled by pro-labor groups under a deal struck with pro-business leaders.

Brown said Club 20 opposes the remaining measures not on their merits, but because they oppose the strategy of business and labor using ballot measures as ammunition against each other.

Club 20 is taking a neutral position on Amendment 49, which would prohibit some public employee paycheck deductions, and Amendment 59. According to the Blue Book, Amendment 59, also known as the Savings Account for Education would "eliminate rebates that taxpayers receive when the state collects more money than it is allowed, and spend the money on preschool through 12th grade public education," "eliminate the required inflationary increase for : education spending," and "set aside money in a new savings account for : education." Brown said that while Club 20 is in favor of eliminating the required inflationary increase for education spending, it is weary of repealing the state's revenue limitations.

Brown spent a portion of the meeting discussing the difficulties Club 20 faces because of the shifting and increasingly polarized politics of the traditionally conservative Western Slope. He said the "red areas are getting redder and blue areas are getting bluer" but that overall, the region is shifting to the left. The backdrop to it all, Brown said, is the highly emotional issue of oil and gas development.

"Our region is growing increasingly diverse," Brown said. "It's very difficult to form consensus. : The Western Slope doesn't agree with itself."

At the end of the meeting, the caucus elected its representatives to the Club 20 Board. County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush will continue as Routt County's voting director. Hayden Town Board Trustee Tom Rogalski and Sandy Evans Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, were elected alternate directors.

Colorado Senate District 8 candidates Al White and Ken Brenner were invited to address the group, but neither attended.

- To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210

or e-mail bgee@steamboatpilot.com

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