Colorado Amendment 78 results: Voters appear set to reject changes to state spending authority

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Nothing to see here, just a couple of guys rappelling off the gold dome. June 24, 2021.

Colorado voters have rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have given the state legislature direct authority over more aspects of state spending.

As of Wednesday morning, preliminary returns showed the measure falling short, with about 56 percent of voters opposing against it.

Because Amendment 78 would change the state constitution, it needs at least 55 percent of the vote to pass. The proposal's organizer conceded that was unlikely to happen.

CPR News is not calling race results, but is reporting preliminary vote totals as they are announced. The Associated Press is also not calling races in Colorado this election. The election will not be final until the results are certified.

Amendment 78 seeks to bring what are known as “custodial funds” into the state’s normal appropriations process. Backers say they want this type of spending to undergo public hearings and a vote of the legislature, as happens with most other kinds of state spending.

Custodial funds come to the state from outside sources and are governed by certain rules from those outside sources. Generally, the money comes with guidelines about what it can be spent on, but ultimately, it’s up to the state agency that receives it to make the final decisions.

Two recent examples are the $1.67 billion the state got through the federal CARES Act and the $400 million coming to Colorado from the Purdue Pharma settlement. The governor’s office decided what to do with the CARES Act money and Attorney General Phil Weiser’s office manages any settlement money the state receives.

Amendment 78 would instead give the state legislature authority over those types of funds, requiring lawmakers to pass bills saying how the money will be spent.

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The amendment would also change what happens to interest earned from these funds. The interest would go to Colorado’s General Fund, where it would become part of the state’s discretionary budget.

Backers of Amendment 78 argued that custodial funds currently lack important oversight and public accountability. It was put on the ballot by Colorado Rising Action, a political nonprofit run by the former head of Americans For Prosperity’s Colorado chapter

“I think overall that people must have not seen this as a big problem,” said Michael Fields, executive director of Colorado Rising Action. He said that concerns about the state’s ability to spend money in an emergency seemed to be one of the winning points for the opposition.

But opponents, who include Democratic members of the legislature’s budget committee, argue that it would actually add unnecessary steps to the budgeting process and potentially make the state less nimble at moments when it needs to move quickly.