Gov. uses the ballot to fight for union dues

Colorado lawmakers and Gov. Bill Ritter shifted their focus to the November elections after wrapping up the 2008 legislative session, promoting a ballot initiative to make it harder to change the state constitution and another to end property-tax deductions for the oil and gas industry.

Ritter said the Legislature made significant progress on health care, education funding and renewable energy.

His biggest disappointment: The failure to get money to fix crumbling bridges and roads.

Ritter said there was no political will to deal with the state's infrastructure among Republicans in an election year. He added that even though it's a major safety issue, he won't call a special session because it would require raising fees or taxes that would need the backing of a bipartisan coalition that doesn't exist.

"I feel like this conversation broke down around politics," Ritter said Wednesday.

Republicans blamed Ritter and Democrats for negotiations breaking down and said the issue will have to wait until next year. They said raising fees to pay for roads would put a heavy burden on families trying to cope with soaring gas prices.

Ritter said he believes voters will approve an initiative to end property-tax deductions that allow oil and gas producers to credit up to 87.5 percent of the prior year's property tax liability from their severance taxes. He said it would provide the state with more than $200 million a year.

Under Ritter's proposal, 60 percent of that amount would go to a fund called Colorado Promise Scholarship, 15 percent for the industry's local effects on transportation and water quality, 15 percent for wildlife habitat, and 10 percent for clean energy projects. Part of the money would be put into a trust fund so students wouldn't lose their scholarships if revenues decline.

Ritter said he wants to keep dueling initiatives among labor and business off the ballot.

Business leaders are pushing a measure asking voters to make Colorado a "right-to-work" state that would prohibit mandatory union membership or mandatory union dues. Labor leaders are promoting seven ballot initiatives, including proposals to require employers to provide annual cost-of-living increases and health insurance.

"I'm still involved in this effort to try and get the right-to-work measure off the ballot, along with all the labor measures off the ballot," Ritter said.

Senate President Peter Groff, D-Denver, said he also would like to stop a ballot measure that would ban affirmative action in state government and higher education.

House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, said he's promoting an initiative that would ask voters to let the state keep tax surplus refunds under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, or TABOR, to invest in the State Education Fund. He says his plan would create a rainy day fund, particularly for education, while asking voters to eliminate mandatory education spending increases under Amendment 23.

Romanoff said lawmakers approved a measure to ask voters to protect the constitution by making it more difficult to propose constitutional amendments.

Under the measure (Senate Concurrent Resolution 3), backers of constitutional changes would have to collect 50 percent more signatures than those just seeking to change a state statute.

They also would have to collect signatures from each of the state's seven congressional districts after rural areas demanded a bigger say in what goes to the ballot.

Romanoff said he couldn't get support for his plan to ask voters to let the state keep tax surplus refunds under TABOR for the State Education Fund. He said he will try to get an initiative on the ballot through the petition process.


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