Your Go-To Guide to Colorado’s 2020 Ballot Measures
In addition to the presidential and Senate races, Coloradans will vote on 11 statewide ballot measures this November. From the reintroduction of gray wolves to changes to property taxes and more, here’s what you need to know.
BY SHANE MONAGHAN • SEPTEMBER 9, 2020
In just a couple of weeks, Colorado voters will receive their general election ballots in the mail. While the showdown between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden and the Senate contest between incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner and former Gov. John Hickenlooper are rightfully capturing much of the attention, there are still plenty of other consequential items for voters to decide come Election Day.
Colorado’s statewide ballot includes 11 measures that impact everything from taxes to the reintroduction of gray wolves to how the state will help elect the country’s commander in chief in the future. It’s a lot to digest, but we’re here to help. Read on for what you need to know about each initiative before November 3.
What you’ll see: “Shall the following Act of the General Assembly be approved: An Act concerning adoption of an agreement among the states to elect the President of the United States by national popular vote, being Senate Bill No. 19-042?”
What it means: During the 2019 legislative session, a Democrat-led General Assembly passed a law adding Colorado to the National Popular Vote Compact along with 14 other states, including New Mexico and California, as well as Washington D.C. The agreement requires that the state’s nine Electoral College votes go to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote—even if that person loses in Colorado. A group called Protect Colorado’s Vote responded to passage of the new bill by collecting nearly double the 120,000-plus signatures needed to let voters decide whether to affirm or reject that decision. Opponents of the compact say it puts too much power in the hands of more populous states like California.
What you’ll see: “Shall there be a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning the restoration of gray wolves through their reintroduction on designated lands in Colorado located west of the continental divide, and, in connection therewith, requiring the Colorado parks and wildlife commission, after holding statewide hearings and using scientific data, to implement a plan to restore and manage gray wolves; prohibiting the commission from imposing any land, water, or resource use restrictions on private landowners to further the plan; and requiring the commission to fairly compensate owners for losses of livestock caused by gray wolves?”
What it means: Coloradans have been debating this ballot initiative—which if approved, would require Colorado Parks and Wildlife to design a plan by 2023 to reintroduce wolves to the Centennial State—for nearly two years now. Supporters of the initiative, like the Sierra Club, claim wolves would be good for Colorado’s ecosystem, killing weak mammals and smaller carnivores (like coyotes). Ranchers have criticized it because they’re worried their livestock would be vulnerable to the predators. And other opponents like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation say the measure is unnecessary because it’s likely the endangered species would return without human intervention.
What you’ll see: “Shall there be a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning prohibiting an abortion when the probable gestational age of the fetus is at least twenty-two weeks, and, in connection therewith, making it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine to perform or attempt to perform a prohibited abortion, except when the abortion is immediately required to save the life of the pregnant woman when her life is physically threatened, but not solely by a psychological or emotional condition; defining terms related to the measure including “probable gestational age” and “abortion,” and excepting from the definition of “abortion” medical procedures relating to miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy; specifying that a woman on whom an abortion is performed may not be charged with a crime in relation to a prohibited abortion; and requiring the Colorado medical board to suspend for at least three years the license of a licensee whom the board finds performed or attempted to perform a prohibited abortion?”
What it means: This measure would ban people in Colorado from having abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy, except when the mother’s life is at risk. Currently, Colorado is one of seven states that doesn’t put a time limit on when a woman can get an abortion. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that abortions after 22 weeks gestation account for just 1.3 percent of such procedures and often happen after parents have received a life-altering diagnosis about the child. Abortion Access for All, the committee that opposes the measures, says that it, “ignores the unique circumstances each woman faces during pregnancy.”
What you’ll see: “Shall there be a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes reducing the state income tax rate from 4.63% to 4.55%?”
What it means: Thanks to Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), Colorado currently has a flat 4.63 percent income tax rate for every citizen. This measure aims to lower that levy. If enacted, a person making $50,000 a year would pay $40 less in income taxes annually. Because the change is expected to decrease the state’s revenue by $170 million during the next fiscal year, opponents of the measure say it would further weaken government services that have already seen cuts in recent years. Supporters believe more money in consumers’ pockets would be better for the economy, allowing people to spend more at local businesses.
What you’ll see: “Shall there be a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes requiring statewide voter approval at the next even-year election of any newly created or qualified state enterprise that is exempt from the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, Article X, Section 20 of the Colorado constitution, if the projected or actual combined revenue from fees and surcharges of the enterprise, and all other enterprises created within the last five years that serve primarily the same purpose, is greater than $100 million within the first five fiscal years of the creation or qualification of the new enterprise?”
What it means: TABOR currently distinguishes between government agencies and programs that provide goods or services paid for by tax revenue, and enterprises—state-run businesses, like university or state park systems, that are operated by the government but receive the majority of funding from citizens paying a fee to use the services it offers. This measure would make it so that voters have to approve the creation of any enterprise that relies on fees, if the revenue from those payments (estimated or actual) is above $100 million within in the first five fiscal years. Under TABOR, Coloradans currently get to approve any tax increases, while Colorado Rising State Action—the conservative-leaning nonprofit that put forth the initiative—says the need for consent should also apply to state enterprises.
What you’ll see: “Shall there be a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning the creation of a paid family and medical leave program in Colorado, and, in connection therewith, authorizing paid family and medical leave for a covered employee who has a serious health condition, is caring for a new child or for a family member with a serious health condition, or has a need for leave related to a family member’s military deployment or for safe leave; establishing a maximum of 12 weeks of family and medical leave, with an additional 4 weeks for pregnancy or childbirth complications, with a cap on the weekly benefit amount; requiring job protection for and prohibiting retaliation against an employee who takes paid family and medical leave; allowing a local government to opt out of the program; permitting employees of such a local government and self-employed individuals to participate in the program; exempting employers who offer an approved private paid family and medical leave plan; to pay for the program, requiring a premium of 0.9% of each employee’s wages, up to a cap, through December 31, 2024, and as set thereafter, up to 1.2% of each employee’s wages, by the director of the division of family and medical leave insurance; authorizing an employer to deduct up to 50% of the premium amount from an employee’s wages and requiring the employer to pay the remainder of the premium, with an exemption for employers with fewer than 10 employees; creating the division of family and medical leave insurance as an enterprise within the department of labor and employment to administer the program; and establishing an enforcement and appeals process for retaliation and denied claims?”
What it means: Colorado Democrats were forced to abandon a bill to create a paid family and medical leave program after the pandemic first stalled, and then shortened, the legislative session. This initiative would institute such a plan. It would require Colorado employers to provide 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, plus an additional four weeks for complications during pregnancy and childbirth, to qualified workers. The program would not only cover an employee’s own childbirth and emergency medical situations, but also extends to caring for other family members. When away from work, the employee’s salary could be covered up to 90 percent, with a cap of no more than $1,100 per week. For the first two years, the program would funded 50/50 by employers and employees (0.9 percent of each worker’s wage would be placed in a state fund). Businesses can also opt to create their own programs that meet the state’s criteria, and employers with fewer than 10 people would be exempt from paying the premium.
What you’ll see: “Shall state taxes be increased by $294,000 annually by imposing a tax on nicotine liquids used in e-cigarettes and other vaping products that is equal to the total state tax on tobacco products when fully phased in, incrementally increasing the tobacco products tax by up to 22% of the manufacturer’s list price, incrementally increasing the cigarette tax by up to 9 cents per cigarette, expanding the existing cigarette and tobacco taxes to apply to sales to consumers from outside the state, establishing a minimum tax for moist snuff tobacco products, creating an inventory tax that applies for future cigarette tax increases, and initially using the tax revenue primarily for public school funding to help offset revenue that has been lost as a result of the economic impacts related to COVID-19 and then for programs that reduce the use of tobacco and nicotine products, enhance the voluntary Colorado preschool program and make it widely available for free, and maintain the funding for programs that currently receive revenue from tobacco taxes, with the state keeping and spending all of the new tax revenue as a voter-approved revenue change?”
What it means: This measure would raise taxes on a number of nicotine products. The levy on vaping products would start at 30 percent of the manufacturer’s price and eventually be raised to 62 percent. A tax on cigarettes would go from what it is today—$0.84 a pack—to $2.64 by 2027. The extra fee on all other tobacco products would start at 40 percent and reach 62 percent by 2027. According to a state analysis, the initiative would increase revenue by an estimated $168 million for the next fiscal year.
What you’ll see: “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution requiring that to be qualified to vote at any election an individual must be a United States citizen?”
What it means: This amendment would change only two words in the state constitution. Currently, it reads “every citizen” may vote, and while that language currently prevents non-citizens from filling out a ballot, a group called Colorado Citizens Voters wants that wording to be stronger and clearer—declaring that “only a citizen” may vote.
What you’ll see: “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution and a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning voter-approved changes to limited gaming, and, in connection therewith, allowing the voters of Central City, Black Hawk, and Cripple Creek, for their individual cities, to approve other games in addition to those currently allowed and increase a maximum single bet to any amount; and allowing gaming tax revenue to be used for support services to improve student retention and credential completion by students enrolled in community colleges?”
What it means: Coloradans voted to make gambling legal in 1991. But that came with some important regulations, including limiting the types of games citizens could gamble on to slots, blackjack, poker, craps, and roulette. Individual wagers were also capped at $100 in 2008. This measure would allow locals in the three historic mining towns where gambling can take place—Black Hawk, Central City, and Cripple Creek—to approve more games and higher wagers. Supporters of the initiative maintain that these communities should get to make decisions that will impact their local economies, and that raising betting limits could attract high rollers who might otherwise travel out of state to gamble.
What you’ll see: “Without increasing property tax rates, to help preserve funding for local districts that provide fire protection, police, ambulance, hospital, kindergarten through twelfth grade education, and other services, and to avoid automatic mill levy increases, shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution to repeal the requirement that the general assembly periodically change the residential assessment rate in order to maintain the statewide proportion of residential property as compared to all other taxable property valued for property tax purposes and repeal the nonresidential property tax assessment rate of twenty-nine percent?”
What it means: This measure would repeal the piece of the 1982 Gallagher Amendment that limits residential property taxes to 45 percent of the total property tax base statewide. Right now, businesses are required to pick up the remaining 55 percent of the tax burden. When the law was first passed, residential properties in the state were valued at $35 billion, or about 53 percent of all the property value in the state. In 2019, that rose to $874 billion, or about 80 percent of the statewide total. The amendment is supported by Colorado Coming Together, a group that claims that removing the limit on property taxes will result in added revenue to be spent on schools, libraries, first responders, and more. The committee Keep Property Taxes Low is opposing the measure, stating that raising property taxes will have a negative impact on homeowners and renters. If the amendment passes, a companion bill passed during the 2020 legislative session by a bipartisan vote—Senate Bill 223—would go into effect, freezing the assessment rate on residential properties at 7.15 percent and 29 percent for non-residential properties.
What you’ll see: “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning the conduct of charitable gaming activities, and, in connection therewith, allowing bingo-raffle licensees to hire managers and operators of games and reducing the required period of a charitable organization’s continuous existence before obtaining a charitable gaming license?”
What it means: Charitable gaming operations would change in two ways if this measure passes. First, nonprofits would only need to have operated for three years—instead of five—to be able to apply for a charitable gaming license. And if an organization does receive a license, it will be able to hire and pay staff to operate bingo games or raffles at fundraisers (currently, these games have to be staffed by unpaid volunteers).