Voters in Colorado have a lot of decisions to make on this year's ballot, from universal health care to the minimum wage.
Even if you read all of CPR News' coverage of the statewide and local ballot measures, you may still have questions about the measures, because they all take on complicated issues.
In an appearance on Colorado Matters, CPR News reporters Megan Verlee, who covers government, education reporter Jenny Brundin and John Daley, who covers health, answered many of your questions, such as:
Listener April Larson wants to know how Amendment 69 (which would establish universal healthcare in Colorado) would affect taxes for she and small businesses, and the answer depends on each person's income. ColoradoCare proponents have an online calculator to get a specific figure for individuals and businesses.
Another listener, Sam DeWitt of Denver, wanted to know how Amendment 71 would affect existing constitutional amendments. Amendment 71 would make it harder to amend the state constitution, but treats existing amendments differently than other parts of the document. Amendment 71 would make it harder to repeal other amendments, but not as hard as putting in something completely new.
Read a transcript of the debrief:
Ryan Warner: Voters in this state have a lot to decide on this year's ballot. From universal health care to raising the minimum wage, we've been asking for your questions about any of the statewide measures so that our reporters can answer them. And with me now, Megan Verlee who covers government for us; health reporter, John Daley; and on education, Jenny Brundin. Welcome to the three of you.
John Daley: Hi Ryan.
Megan Verlee: Nice to be here.
Jenny Brundin: Hey Ryan.
RW: Nice to see you. Megan, one measure would make it harder to amend the state constitution. So in previous elections there have been all sorts of amendments to the constitution on the ballot so the taxpayer bill of rights, marijuana legalization. Amendments created term limits for politicians and a lottery fund to pay for open space.
And on this year's ballot, Amendment 71 would make the citizens initiative process harder for constitutional amendments. Kristin Winfield of Centennial asks, "Why do people pursue amendments so frequently when there are other options, like just changing statutes?"
MV: Because changing statute leaves that law change vulnerable to being messed with by the state legislature. There's nothing to prevent them from coming back in session next January and tossing it out. And that did happen at least once with a campaign finance measure that was passed as a statutory change and so the groups came back and did it as a constitutional amendment. And Colorado Common Cause, one of the groups behind that amendment is one of the main opponents of Amendment 71 for that very reason.
There is another reasoning here though which is that having something in the state constitution gives it kind of a halo. I covered a lot of the debates around making policy for medical marijuana in the state legislature and proponents always drove home that we're the only state where medical marijuana is enshrined in the constitution and that became an arguing point for them that don't mess with this, it's in the constitution.
RW: Yeah, even that word 'enshrined' implies that the constitution is some sort of shrine for something that you want it to say.
So under Amendment 71, anyone who wants to amend the state's constitution in the future, has to collect signatures from across the state to put it on the ballot and then 55% of voters have to agree to put it into the constitution. Sam DeWitt of Denver asks, "What happens to existing amendments if Amendment 71 passes? Specifically would there be new requirements for repealing an amendment that voters approved in years' past?"
MV: Well I think this question is on a lot of minds and when I went and read the Blue Book language, I had a lot of trouble figuring it out actually. And there are things in the constitution that pople aren't happy with, like TABOR and Amendment 23.
So under Amendment 71 it would get harder to repeal an existing amendment but not as hard as putting something new in. That's because backers of a repeal would have to go statewide to get their signatures, that's part of Amendment 71, but they would only need 50% plus one of the vote to actually pass their repeal.
RW: So the vote itself is not more difficult but the gathering of signatures to potentially remove something from the constitution, that gets harder.
MV: Yes. And a quick fun fact, the only thing I found that was ever removed by initiative from the constitution was prohibition way back in the day.
RW: All right. John Daley is CPR's health reporter and my John, this is a busy ballot on the health front.
RW: Let's talk first about the universal health care proposal, Amendment 69. It would create something called Colorado Care, a taxpayer funded health insurance system. Listener April Larson asks, "How does free health care affect taxes for me and for small businesses?"
JD: Well Ryan, that's a great question, but let me say first that this is not free healthcare. Most Coloradans will still pay for their healthcare but under this measure you'd pay through taxes to this new statewide health program, not to healthcare companies directly. So the short answer on taxes is that it varies depending on someone's circumstances. So proponents say that the taxes most folks would pay to fund the system would be less than they currently pay for healthcare so a net savings. Opponents dispute this.
To give you an example, I got this from the Colorado Health Institute, a non-partisan group that's analyzed Amendment 69. So imagine two workers, they're in their mid-thirties and they're in good health. One works as a delivery driver, making $35,000 a year. The other works as a lawyer making $150,000 a year. Right now they'd pay the same amount for healthcare. Say Colorado Care passes, right now the delivery driver would save significantly over what she's paying now but the lawyer would pay a bit more. So it really depends on what you pay now for insurance and how much you earn and people in businesses who earn large paychecks could end up paying more under Amendment 69.
So again, would you pay more if you're business or an individual, well Colorado Care proponents have an online calculator where you can punch in your own specifics and we've got a link to that on our website.
RW: At cprnews.org. And just briefly, how would taxes change for someone who's retired?
JD: Well the picture gets kind of complicated when you look at retirees because even non-payroll income gets taxed to help fund this new universal health care system. Opponents of Colorado Care say retirees will get hit hard because they would pay tax on their benefits. Colorado Care advocates say there are exemptions which ease that tax for most seniors.
RW: Another question about Colorado Care comes from Magdalena Lewis of Denver. She said she saw an article that raised the question of abortion rights and how they'd be affected if Colorado Care were to become reality.
JD: Yeah this is a really interesting one because you kind of have two progressive goals at odds here but some pro-choice groups have concerns about this. The group NARAL is officially against Colorado Care because they worry that abortion services won't be converged. They point to a part of the Colorado constitution that says public money can't be used to pay for abortion providers.
Right now even Medicaid covers abortion services in the cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest and some private plans offer more coverage. Pro-choice backers worry that those same benefits wouldn't exist under Colorado Care but proponents of Amendment 69 insists that they would.
RW: One more question now. Healthcare costs and the universal measure on Colorado's ballot is the subject of many of the questions we received. This one comes from Julie Noon of Lakewood. "Why do we not hear anyone talk about why health insurance is so costly?"
JD: Yeah, why is health insurance so expensive? Well like so many questions, this one is really complicated. It's worth thinking about this in a couple of ways. Several things can help explain the rising premiums that we're seeing. One has to do with risk. So when Obamacare was launched in 2014, no none knew who or how many folks would sign up so insurers set the rates so they pay for their customer's costs and also so they could absorb some losses. Well many plans were underpriced, when the ACA launched, so now to make up for this underpricing and still stay profitable, insurers are raising the prices, that's what they call a 'market correction'. The hope is that rates will start to level off as the system stabilizes.
Now competition is another factor. We're seeing some insurers leave the market. There's been a lot of news about that. Less competition means rising prices.
Another factor is a lot of sick people signed up for insurance under Obamacare. Sick people are more expensive for insurers. And finally the cost of health insurance is also strongly driven by the high cost of healthcare in general.
And why is healthcare so expensive in the US? Well consider three things: high administrative costs, high drug costs and defensive medicine where doctors are ordering multiple tests so they can be sure of a diagnosis and avoid getting sued. Many who want to reform the healthcare system, like the people behind Colorado Care, are trying to address this complex mix of problems that make health insurance and healthcare so costly in the US. Of course the opponents of Colorado Care think it's just too sweeping of a change.
RW: All right. There's your answer Julie Noon in Lakewood. Another healthcare related measure on the ballot to allow medical professionals to help terminally ill people end their lives. Patients would have to administer the drug themselves and two doctors must agree that that patient is terminal. Ellie Weber of Denver told us on Twitter that she'd love to know 'who is supporting' what is on your ballot, Amendment 106.
JD: Well if you're talking about financial support, the campaign is called YES on Colorado End of Life Options. And it's raised about $5.5 million. The vast majority of that money comes from an interest group called Compassion and Choices. It's national but has headquarters in Colorado. Unfortunately we can't be sure where that money is coming from because that group is what's called a 501(c)4 and it's not required to disclose its donors.
Outside the financials, the ACLU of Colorado supports Prop 106. Governor John Hickenlooper supports it. So do many progressive groups and some medical societies in the state. Denver's Archdiocese and other Catholic groups oppose it. So does the Denver Post which editorialized against Prop 106 because they think that patients could be pressured into ending their own lives.
RW: Well thanks so much, John. And for Jenny Brundin now, CPR's education reporter. Jenny, Jessica Garcia of Denver asks about initiatives that are specific to the city of Denver to raise money for education. So this is 3a and 3b on the ballot. Garcia wants to know, "We hear about them as a single issue but what happens is 3a passes but not 3b or vice versa?"
JB: Well 3a is a mill levy which invests in classrooms, that's teachers and students. Property taxes only increase if 3a passes and they'd go up about $10 a month for homes valued at about $320,000.
Three-B, (3b) is not a property tax hike. It asks voters to let the district take out new bonds to invest in school facilities and buildings. So it would pay for things like leaky roofs and putting air conditioners in older schools. They'd also get more computers in classrooms. Currently about one in five students in Denver has access to a computer at school.
The citizen committee that put these measures on the ballot says both are critical to funding schools and they address separate issues. That's why you often hear about 3a and 3b as one measure.
RW: But they could stand alone? Separately that is.
RW: All right. Thanks Jenny. And she's our education reporter. Let's go back for some final thoughts, to Megan Verlee now. Megan we've got some general questions about voting that we hope you can help answer.
RW: You reported on this being Colorado's first presidential election where every voter gets a ballot in the mail. Evelyn Cadmen asks, "What happens if someone goes to the polling place to vote on November 8th, to ensure that they have not already voted by mail?"
MV: Well what makes this all possible is a statewide voter registration database. So when the clerk gets your ballot from the mail, they mark you as voted in that database. You go to a polling place. They look you up on their computer, you've already voted, you get sent home.
Now if you somehow drop your ballot in the box or the mail and run to your polling place before anybody can get to it and you vote there as well, well those double ballots will get flagged and you may get a call from the DA's office.
RW: Yeah. The consequences could be serious there. What happens if you fill out a space wrong on your mailed ballot? Does that invalidate the whole ballot or just that question?
MV: Just that question.
RW: Okay. Not the whole ballot. Final question about one of the biggest conundrums for Colorado voters I think. The judicial retention questions. Every Colorado voter gets to say whether they think judges should keep their jobs and voters do get help from the Blue Book which has recommendations.
Christopher Gomez of Denver, who, full disclosure, is a friend of mine asks, "Who makes up the board of people that writes the judicial recommendations in the Blue Book?"
MV: Well that board is a commission on judicial performance and there is one for each of the state's 22 judicial districts. Each of those groups is made up of four lawyers, six non-lawyers. They're appointed by political officeholders and members of the justice system and they survey people who have interacted with the judge; lawyers, plaintiffs, defendants, court staff, other judges. They also review the judges' decisions and get an evaluation from them. So it's a pretty complicated process.
RW: Nice to hear from all three of you. You heard Megan Verlee, Jenny Brundin, and John Daley. We have much more about all of the ballot initiatives that is that CPR has covered at cprnews.org. click on the Colorado Voters guide at the top of the page.