Our View: ‘No’ on 46 and 51 | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: ‘No’ on 46 and 51

— Voters should oppose amendments 46 and 51 on this year’s ballot.

Amendment 46 is a measure against affirmative action policies. It would prohibit the state “from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.”

Such a broad-based, sweeping amendment to the state constitution – with the undefined terms “discrimination” and “preferential treatment” potentially creating costly legal headaches – is not the proper way to address affirmative action issues in Colorado.

While a color- and gender-blind society that does not require affirmative action policies is an ideal for which to strive, we don’t think our society has reached that point. Many productive and needed uses for affirmative action exist today. A diverse student body is a valuable component of university campuses, for example. The Supreme Court cautiously upheld that value in two separate 2003 rulings involving the University of Michigan. In Grutter v. Bollinger, the court upheld affirmative action policies of the university’s law school. But in Gratz v. Bollinger, the court ruled that the university’s strict affirmative action points system for undergraduate admissions violated equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution, and stated that race could not be an overriding factor in admissions decisions.

The rulings clearly showed the delicate balance – and strict oversight – needed to effectively and fairly implement affirmative action policies not only in higher education, but also in the workplace and public contracting spheres.

Amendment 46 could put an end to many existing, valuable programs that help ensure an equal footing for all. And while there are also many so-called “phantom businesses” that abuse affirmative action policies through methods including false claims of ownership, those abuses must be prevented through stronger oversight from the state Capitol, not from a sweeping amendment that could have costly and unforeseen impacts.

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Amendment 46 – brought to Colorado by interests outside the state – is not an appropriate change to our state’s constitution.

We also oppose Amendment 51, but for different reasons. Amendment 51 would raise the state sales tax by 0.1 percent in 2009 and again in 2010, to raise a total of more than $186 million annually for services benefiting people with developmental disabilities.

We do not question the need for increased funding of such services in Colorado, where countless families are on waiting lists for drastically needed, life-changing assistance and programs. In 2005, this newspaper’s Editorial Board endorsed the successful 1-mill property tax in Routt County to benefit Horizons Specialized Services. That tax raises at least $832,000 annually for Horizons and is very valuable to our community.

But the statewide nature of Amendment 51 and the very different economic climate of 2008 is part of our reason for opposing the sales tax increase.

Instead, we strongly call on our state legislators and Gov. Bill Ritter to address this need in the 2009 session of the Legislature by finding a revenue source for these services through cutting government spending elsewhere. We realize the state faces incredible budgetary challenges in areas including transportation and education, to name just two. And it is easy to imagine funding for services benefiting the developmentally disabled being swept under the legislative rug. We hope this is not the case and that our state leadership sees the public push for this amendment as a wake-up call. We also can’t help but wonder whether similar funding is needed for the physically disabled, who aren’t included in this ballot proposal.

Quite simply, now is not the time for a statewide sales-tax increase. If the citizens of Colorado believe Amendment 51 has merit, as we do, they should push their elected representatives to provide funding within the existing budgetary process.

Vote “no” on amendments 46 and 51.