10.15.08

Colorado Amendment Crib sheet, Part 2

Posted in Society at 14:54 by RjZ

Where were we? (It may be better to read part 1 first, but that’s up to you.)

Where were we? Ah yes, amendment 54 proposes amending the Colorado Constitution to eliminate “at-will” employment. It’s pretty likely that if you are a United State’s citizen reading this, you work in an ‘at-will’ environment where your employer can fire you, for any reason, any time they wish, and where you can quit, any time, for any reason you wish. In spite of that clause in your contract, most of us would go ahead and give our employers two weeks notice and most employers even pay a severance when they fire people. The proposed change would still allow employers to fire someone for cause, for incompetence or because they just need to lay people off.

Proponents state that this change would simply put into law practices followed by good businesses. So why do we need it? The same proponents say job seekers will be attracted to those companies that offer a secure, just-cause positions. Great! So why don’t we let those companies who think this is unimportant fail because they don’t attract the best employees?

This ineffective amendment will increase lawsuits, accomplish little that isn’t already in place, and is probably not worth the time I’ve already spent on it.

NO on 55!

Amendment 56 proposes changing the Colorado Constitution so that employers in small business will have to provide health insurance. Honestly, I wish I knew where this employer provided health insurance idea came from. Many in the United States are envious of the European system. In that system, whole classes of people, typically based on their professions, are entitled to buy into group insurance plans. Engineers can buy into one plan, auto mechanics into another. If you’re an unemployed auto mechanic, you can still buy auto mechanic’s health insurance (this is, in the European case, in addition to the state provided health insurance, but you’re required to buy it if you make over a certain amount of money. It’s not a perfect analogy, alas.)

In that system, people have access to group plans, and the self-employed, under-employed, unemployed are not out of the loop. Better still, businesses do not have to trouble themselves with activities that have absolutely nothing to do what their primary focus: making, servicing, selling, promoting their special widgets™. Contrary to proponent’s arguments that “Businesses are likely to benefit from higher productivity and fewer days lost to illness when more employees are insured.” (which is, of course, true, but hardly the responsibility of the employer) growing a business is a frightening burden for many small owners that suddenly have to offer extensive insurance coverage to their employees. And yet, many do… because they want to attract the very best employees, but unfortunately with such an amendment, they’d all be the same and there’d be no advantage for them any more. Continuing our flawed employer provided health insurance means perpetuating one of the problems we have with health care in the United States.

NO on 56!

Amendment 57 will change the Colorado Constitution to gut workers’ compensation. Well, actually, that’s not what it says of course. What it really wants to do allow employees to be able to get more than the workers’ compensation laws already allow them. Here’s what’s currently allowed injured employers:

• reasonable and necessary medical care, at no cost to the employee;
• tax-free payment for lost wages up to two-thirds of the injured employee’s salary; 
• payment for permanent disability and disfigurement; 
• vocational rehabilitation; 
• funeral expenses; and 
• death benefits for surviving dependents.

Sounds pretty reasonable to me. Some of the things that amendment 57 will add: “future monetary losses, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life….” As a rule, I am not for tort limitations; people should be allowed anything they can reasonably get through our legal system. But, just so we’re clear, this will break a working system and cost a fortune, making money, above all, for lawyers who will represent claims of “inconvenience and loss of enjoyment.” Philosophically, I should vote yes, and I probably will, but I’d really rather this doesn’t change, so I’d be happy if you voted:

NO on 57!

Amendment 58 is probably the most complex one on the list. It will change the Colorado Constitution to increase the tax on extraction of oil and natural gas and spend that money on lots of things we’d really like. There’s not much wrong with the concept here. Personally I am all for removing the tax credit that companies enjoy and severance taxes in Colorado are lower than other oil and gas producing states.

The question I have is how this amendment distributes the money received. Here again, we send legislators to Denver only to tie their hands on how to budget, and what to do. I completely understand the fear that our government officials won’t do the right things, but if we’re seriously concerned with that, then we shouldn’t be raising more taxes so that they have more money (and therefore power). On this one too, I am quite conflicted. I want to get rid of that tax credit, but not if it means giving more power to the legislators, which apparently the writers of this amendment were afraid of doing as well, since they tried to spell everything out. 

In the voting booth, I am going to have to assume that a process that is voted on once and then codified into the near permanent law of the Constitution, is probably not the best way to get rid of this damn tax credit. If you don’t mind this and vote yes, I won’t complain, but I’ll still be voting:

NO on 58!

Amendment 59 is not likely to make me any friends either. It proposes amending the Colorado Constitution to eliminate the tax payers bill of rights (TABOR) and spend that money on pre-school through 12 (P-12) education. Motherhood and apple pie, right? Spend more money on education? Hard to go wrong with that one.  This one did though. People complain about TABOR because it has us with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brakes. Our government is required to both reduce spending and return any extra money to the taxpayers, but at the same time increase spending for P-12 education to keep up with inflation (also known as Amendment 23).

I don’t think this challenging requirement is as crazy as it sounds though. Put another way, our current Constitution says that the people of Colorado value education and want to make sure that it is paid for, no matter what, and that the costs stay keep up inflation. If other things must go, so be it, but education is important to us. The change we have before us eliminates this foot on the brake, foot on the accelerator problem by simply stripping it (Amendment 23) out, in hopes that this tax increase will cover it. (It’s not called a tax increase by the way, it’s an elimination of rebates. I don’t know about you, but when my Colorado State Tax bill is larger thanks to eliminated rebates, I would call that a tax increase. Still, they’re right, the money comes only when there is extra cash that would be rebated. I am not sure what education is supposed to do during these tough times.)

What really happens with this proposed change is that some money is set aside for education (good) freeing up more money for other programs (bad) without any limits to the size of government (really bad) and it does so without even the current guarantees we have to ensure that education would remain well funded into the future. How is this a good thing?

Another way to look at it is that loads of people hate TABOR because it limits how many pet programs can be inserted into government (whether they belong there or not, see elsewhere in these two posts) and it’s easiest to get votes when you promise something. So, people who hate TABOR (they’re entitled to hating it, I don’t know enough to judge it in it’s entirety) decided to wrap an amendment to eliminate it in something people can’t vote down, education funding. I’m with most Coloradans. Education funding must remain a high priority for our future. That’s why I am opposed to amendment 59.

NO on 59!

Whew! That’s enough of that (although there are few more referenda there as well) and I haven’t even addressed all of them. Did you notice the theme yet? See the next installment coming right up….

3 Comments »

  1. Tim R. said,

    October 20, 2008 at 7:03

    I think you misstate 59, and your logic here contradicts what you have just said re 58.

    One of the many big problems with TABOR is that is effectively does not allow the state to maintain capital reserves (e.g. a savings account or rainy-day fund), while simultaneously limiting the state’s revenues to an arbitrary maximum increase that has been well below the growth and inflation rates over the past decade. Passing this amendment (59) would help fix that problem with TABOR by directing any revenues in excess of that arbitrary maximum increase to the State Education Fund, and allowing the state to tap any such Rainy Day reserves in that fund only when the state’s economy is not doing well (as measured by personal income growth–which directly correlates with state tax revenue).

    The “wrapping” of this amendment inside a P-12 education issue is not really clouding the water because the P-12 funding amendment (Amendment 23) that passed a few years ago forces arbitrary increases in education expenditures at the same time TABOR arbitrarily limits revenue increases during periods of economic growth while resetting the state’s budgetary baseline lower in bad economic times. If we don’t pass this amendment (or another like it someday in the future), P-12 funding will grow at a rate faster than the state budget is permitted to grow under TABOR. Actually this amendment will likely result in less P-12 funding when considered over the long term, not more–the opposite of what you state. But it will enable the legislature to make more rational funding decisions about education expenditures as percentage of the state budget, and to tap into the rainy day fund by spending the State Education Fund monies on education in lean years–thereby freeing up money elsewhere in the budget.

    Philosophically I would note that you omit from your analysis in 59 your eloquent defense of the fact that we elect legislators in order to decide how to allot our taxpayer money (which you ironically gave in opposition to 58 just before you addressed this one). 59 is an attempt to restore some of that discretionary budgetary power to the legislature, to not “tie their hands behind their backs” as you put it. Where is the logic, Ron?

    A more important philosophical point is that state governments–and governments in general–should not be held to the same short term financial outlooks that run most businesses. Governments must necessarily invest in infrastructure projects that require capital and operating expenses spread over many years–the annual ratcheting down or up of the state budget from TABOR and education expenditures from Amendment 23 just don’t make sound long-term economic planning possible. Moreover, there no limits on how low TABOR can ratchet down the budget in a bad year, effectively setting the baseline too low for the state to fund the same level of services when when the economy recovers and state revenue coffers fill.

    Similarly, The demand for government services goes up when economic times are tad. Unemployed workers return to school for retraining, homelessness rises, crime soars and a sound governmental response is building infrastructure (both because costs are low and because jobs programs are needed as an economic stimulus). TABOR is utterly divorced from the realities of what people actually expect from their government in bad times; passing 59 makes that Rainy Day fund possible.

    For those reasons I strongly support 59!!!!!

  2. RjZ said,

    October 20, 2008 at 16:58

    So, I am confused. You agree that 59 will likely result in less funding for education, but you’re for it?

    I think you’re right in pointing out that TABOR ties the hands of legislators in a way I’ve held is inappropriate. However, and I am no TABOR expert, I claim that TABOR is in keeping with the principals of the founding fathers and what a constitution is and should be, i.e. do this and no more. TABOR attempts to restore that tone to the constitution, and perhaps goes too far.

    I can’t see any reason why governments should not be held accountable to the same financial outlooks as businesses. Again, perhaps TABOR goes too far, but asking our government to run more and more efficiently is a reasonable request that every business is required to do in order to survive. The government will receive less per capita but not necessarily less in total. Governments should indeed invest in the future, just as companies are required to do. Perhaps someone should pass an amendment requesting this very ability in an effort to refine TABOR and remove these problems.

    This amendment, however, doesn’t do that. It eliminates TABOR but wraps it in the hard to vote down education funding, which it, in fact, may endanger. I neglected to make the point that 59 may reduce education funding but I mention that it will eliminate 23. Still, thanks for reminding my few readers of another argument against Amendment 59.

  3. Tim R. said,

    October 22, 2008 at 18:31

    Nope, I’m for 59 because it fixes some of the problems with TABOR, not because I’m for less money for P-12 education. I am against fiscally irresponsible constitutional amendments such as TABOR and Amendment 23, especially in combination–and if you spent any time doing the math you might actually join me. Oh and 59 won’t eliminate TABOR–it only eliminates the refund requirement, which just one head of the hydra, by allowing the legislators to POSSIBLY use that money for education only when the personal capita income growth is less than 6% for 2 consecutive years by a simple majority vote, and by a two-thirds vote in other years.

    Generally I agree with the principle–though not the principal–you espouse about not cluttering the constitution with amendments. However, 59 is a case of justifiably cleaning up two related messes that together spell fiscal disaster. I though you were an economically savvy voter?

    Oh, and I’m not sure what the “founding fathers” had to do with a state constitution written for a state that enetered the union 100 years after its beginning.

    I also fail to see why one should hold a government accountable on the same fiscal timeline as short-term business cycles when governments by their very nature build long term infrastructure projects–unlike, as I point out, most businesses. Governments ARE not businesses, despite what twaddle the right wing sells in this country; they are a different animal. A church or school may have a business side of their affairs–that doesn’t make them businesses.

Leave a Comment