Oct 28, 2021 - Politics

2021 ballot questions test Colorado conservatives' new strategy

Illustration of the Colorado flag with a checkmark and box instead of a C and the sun.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The 2021 ballot represents an experiment for conservatives' latest electoral strategy in Colorado.

State of play: Down and out, holding little power at the state level and unlikely to get it back, Republicans and their big-moneyed allies are pushing two ballot measures that will determine whether they can stay relevant in Colorado politics.

  • The conservative theory being tested this November is whether the state's voters remain right of political center when it comes to fiscal issues — that is to say, we're stingy with our money.

Context: In 2020, conservatives won two ballot measures that cut income taxes and required voter approval of large fees despite being swept out of office in the 2018 election by a Democratic wave.

What's new: This year, the same conservative dark-moneyed group Colorado Rising Action is back with two more ballot measures:

  • Amendment 78 would require lawmakers to allocate all money received by the state, including federal dollars, grants and legal settlements that are currently passed directly to certain state agencies.
  • Proposition 120 would reduce property taxes for lodging and multifamily housing, and possibly other properties depending on legal rulings to come.

What they're saying: Conservatives "are going to use the ballot to do things we think are popular with voters that the Legislature would never do," said Michael Fields, director of Colorado Rising Action. "We plan on doing a couple ballot initiatives every year."

The other side: Scott Wasserman, president of the liberal Bell Policy Center, said the supporter's "goal is to blow things up. Their goal is to create problems for the party in power."

What to watch: The low-turnout election makes passage of both measures a wildcard.

  • The language sounds good to the average voter but the impacts are not delineated.
  • Amendment 78 faces a steeper hurdle as a constitutional change and needs 55% support for approval.

What's next: If both pass, the political debate will evolve into a legal one.

One lawsuit challenging whether Amendment 78 should have appeared on an odd-year ballot is being appealed after a lower court tossed the case.

  • The opponents also contend the implementation would conflict with court orders directing legal settlement money and prompt more litigation.

Supporters of Proposition 119 plan to file a lawsuit if it passes to challenge a bipartisan state law approved earlier this year that neutered the ballot measure by limiting how the property tax cut is applied.


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