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Donald E.L. JohnsonJanuary 20, 20169min730
Donald E.L. Johnson
Donald E.L. Johnson

Colorado conservatives who want to control spending and taxes in the state should keep a close eye on the bipartisan Building a Better Colorado.

Its mission is pretty clear to anyone who has attended one of its some 20 “summits” that have been held around the state and has read its handouts and website.

Building a Better Colorado is intent on making it easier for politicians to increase spending and raise taxes. That is, it wants to repeal TABOR), which has helped keep spending in check in Colorado since it was passed in the early 1990s.

Further, BABC wants to make it harder to amend the state constitution by requiring a “super majority” of somewhere between a 50 percent to 66 percent majority to amend the constitution. Today, it is as easy to amend the constitution as it is to pass a referendum that creates a new law or set of laws that can be changed by the General Assembly.

Putting initiates on ballots would be made more difficult by requiring petitioners to collect set numbers of signatures in legislative districts around the state. Today, petitioners only need to gather signatures equaling 5 percent of the number of votes in the previous election. So a metro Denver petitioner could meet that goal of about 98,000 signatures by focusing on Denver instead of seeking signatures from around the state.

So, no more TABOR, Gallagher or Amendment 23 amendments to the Colorado Constitution.

The BABC handout and slide summarize the state’s problem:

“TABOR says limit revenue, and thereby spending; Amendment 23 says increase spending by at least the rate of inflation for K-12 education; and the Gallagher Amendment has reduced what homeowners pay in property taxes and thereby requires the state to pay more for K-12 education because the local contribution is shrinking.” Politicians’ hands are tied. No wonder they are frustrated.

In addition to making it easier to increase spending and making it harder to put initiatives on ballots or even pass constitutional initiatives, Building a Better Colorado also wants voters to think about changing how we nominate candidates for office.

The 30 or 40 politicians, business leaders and voters like me who attended a recent summit in Greenwood Village seemed to be more in agreement that the way we nominate candidates needs to be improved than we were on other issues. There was less of a consensus when it came to whether we should have primaries, caucuses or nonpartisan primaries that elected two candidates for each office.

On BABC’s website, when I clicked on links to summaries of the votes at various summits, they didn’t work.

Of course, BABC denies it has the agendas outlined above.

This is supposed to be a bottom-up citizen movement. Its summits are set up as well-organized and moderated focus groups. Background information is presented on each topic, each table is given 10 minutes to discuss the options offered and modern visuals and voting technology are used. Results of each vote are shown on big screens, and we even managed to have the moderator change a couple of questions that didn’t seem clear. However, the answers to the revised questions were pretty much the same as the answers generated by the original questions.

The audience was very Republican and lots of us were over 60. Only a few youngsters could make the meeting, which was held between 4:00 and 6:30 p.m. I found out about the event from a prominent politician’s spouse.

As a conservative, I came away with several concerns about the BABC.

The biggest question is how does the organization expect to get honest responses from the 7,000 (the number offered by the moderator) or so online participants who were allowed to vote on the questions presented at the summits? This is allowed to get input from young people and others who couldn’t attend a summit.

What would keep unions, chambers of commerce, teachers, nurses and public employees from stacking the votes from their members on social media?

Nothing. Online polls on elections and issues are notoriously rigged by politicians and special interest groups. I voted at the summit and found myself voting again online because it seemed that the only way I could review the site was to sign on and go through the process.

Too many political survey’s questions are written to get desired results. That clearly is the case with several of the Building a Better Colorado questions. The questions not only begged for answers, but they also frequently asked two questions at once. The possible answers made it impossible to say yes to one of the questions and no to the other one. That may make political sense when you’re discussing TABOR and Gallagher, but it distorts the survey results. You can see this by going to the website and taking the survey. It’s very slick and interesting.

Then there is the BABC background material. On spending, the moderator outlined a Colorado future of more spending on Medicaid, education, roads and public safety. After all, Gov. John Hickenlooper wants politicians to “collaborate,” not fight. Politicians can collaborate only when there are bigger pies to share, not when someone has to take a budget cut. Then they fight.

On its Facebook page, BABC lets visitors post their thoughts. Few do. And it lets them comment on others’ post. A few more of us do. And then, apparently to generate some visits, the page’s moderator has inserted pictures and other stuff that are in no way related to the issues discussed at the summit. Silly.

I couldn’t find the names of any of the people who are behind Building a Better Colorado on its website or Facebook page until I searched the Web and got the page on their site. At our summit, the skilled moderator gave his name once. It wasn’t on the handout. Nor were the names of the four Democrats and four Republicans who are co-chairs. The co-chairs’ names were on a flyer that attracted me to the meeting.

They are big names in Colorado politics. Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Gov. Roy Romer. Former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, former U.S. Senate candidate Jane Norton, Greely Mayor Tom Norton, former Secretary of State Gigi Dennis, Colorado Mesa University President Tim Foster, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, former state Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Kourtis, Grand Junction Mayor Phyllis Norris, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, former Denver Mayor Federico Peña, former U.S. Sen. and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, former state Sen. Gail Schwartz, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.

Donald E. L. Johnson of Greenwood Village is RealDonJohnson on Facebook and Twitter.