Ballot items: Consider the source

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By Greg Romberg

By any account, Colorado has a robust citizen initiative process. Both by law and practice, we are asked to vote on more proposed constitutional amendments and initiated laws than people in other states.

And the results of the plethora of successful proposals have made governing Colorado quite difficult. Among other things, we have the bizarre interaction of TABOR, which limits government spending and revenue, Amendment 23, which mandates annual increases in K-12 spending, and the Gallagher Amendment, which forces businesses to pay property taxes at a much higher rate than residential property.

We also tend to spend millions of dollars and countless hours litigating ill-conceived notions that cannot pass constitutional muster. We faced economic boycotts over the amendment that restricted homosexual rights before it was found unconstitutional in the 1990s. Most recently, Amendment 54 from the 2008 election, which would have limited government contractors and their employees from contributing to political campaigns, was invalidated as a violation of First Amendment free speech rights.

And while there is general recognition that this process has regularly produced flawed results, it is clear that Colorado voters want to continue to have the ability to initiate proposals for the electorate to consider.

If we are going to consider these proposals thoughtfully, we need to understand where they come from, who is helped or hurt by each proposal, and who supports and opposes them.

We face three interconnected proposals this year — Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 — that, if passed, will fundamentally change how government is funded. I believe they are terrible ideas and will encourage you to vote against them and tell you why as we get closer to the election. But for now, an important issue to consider is how they made their way onto our ballot and what should be the consequences for violating disclosure laws.

Colorado law requires public disclosure of people who propose these initiatives and also of anyone who seeks to influence their outcomes. It has become increasingly clear over the last several weeks that TABOR author and disgraced former legislator Douglas Bruce has gone out of his way to hide his involvement in 60, 61 and 101. State hearings indicate Bruce was behind the proposals and hid that involvement. A Denver district judge found him in contempt of court last week for avoiding attempts to address his involvement and found that he “has obstructed the administration of justice.”

But despite these deceptions, we’ll still be forced to vote on these three initiatives in November. Even with good and complete information, it is difficult for the public to sift through complex proposals. When it is proven that initiative proponents have gone out of their way to hide information that must be disclosed under the laws that such initiatives operate, there should be meaningful consequences.

Proposals that are placed before voters in blatant violation of disclosure laws should not be allowed to appear on our ballots.

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.