Colorado voters are weighing in on a slate of big-ticket issues in Tuesday’s statewide election, remnants of the most divisive legislative session in recent memory.
They will be asked to approve the largest income tax increase in state history and give the OK to a controversial taxing scheme for the sale of recreational marijuana.
And voters in 11 counties will decide whether or not to pursue the idea of splitting from Colorado and forming their own state.
Each item is rooted in this year’s legislative session in which the Democratic majority had free reign to pass practically any law it liked. Throughout the session, Republicans accused Democrats of over-reaching and ignoring dissenting voices.
The perception of being sidelined led 11 rural counties to place a measure on their ballots asking voters if they’d like to secede from Colorado and form the country’s 51st state. Should any of those measures pass, county commissioners must appeal to the state legislature for its blessing, then appeal to Congress to confer statehood, outcomes that are considered to be highly unlikely.
Despite the long-shot nature of the secession movement, it has gotten the attention of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who admitted recently to the Greeley Tribune that “maybe we didn’t pay attention” to the concerns of rural Coloradans.
“If that many people feel that we didn’t pay attention, then shame on us,” he said.
The final straw for many rural voters was a bill Hickenlooper signed that increased the percentage of renewable energy required of rural electricity cooperatives, which many believe will raise energy rates for rural customers.
Voters will also decide on the fate of Amendment 66, a ballot measure approved by the Democratic-led legislature that would ditch Colorado’s flat-rate income tax for a two-tiered system that would raise an additional $950 million per year to fund sweeping education reforms.
Proponents, led by Hickenlooper, say the tax hike is critical for such things as all day kindergarten and the restoration classes and services that have been lost to funding cuts over the years.
But opponents are worried that some of that tax increase would be used by school districts to fund their obligations to the state pension fund for public employees, not put to use in classrooms.
And the Yes on 66 campaign is facing an image problem after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave it $1 million. Bloomberg is highly divisive in Colorado, having lavished money on a failed effort by two Democratic lawmakers to fend off recalls for their support of new gun control laws. Hickenlooper had even asked out-of-state interests to butt out of local politics.
Finally, voters will also be asked to approve a taxing scheme for recreational marijuana, which they legalized at the ballot box last year. The amendment legalizing pot required the legislature to propose a taxing structure, but many marijuana advocates feel what’s been proposed it too steep and will allow the black market to thrive.
Proposal AA would levy a 15 percent excise tax on cultivated marijuana and another 10 percent sales tax at the cash register. Local municipalities can also vote to tack on their own special taxes. Hickenlooper is also pushing for passage of this measure because, if it fails, the cost of regulating the retail marijuana industry will be borne by the general fund.
Whether the taxing scheme passes or not, licensed pot shops will begin selling marijuana to people 21 and older as early as January.
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