Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a two-part article on the Colorado Reform Roundtable and the proposed Statement of Agreement. Part 2 can be read here.
The Colorado Bar Association in February 2010 appointed a representative to the Colorado Reform Roundtable (CRR). As described in a Denver Post article in October 2009, CRR is a “loose alliance founded by 10 organizations representing business, labor and nonprofit groups, [which] resembles the coalition that helped pass Referendum C in 2005.” The ten founding “conveners” of CRR were the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Forum, Club 20, Bell Policy Center, Colorado Concern, Colorado’s Future, the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, the Colorado Education Association, Colorado WINS, and the Service Employees International Union. CRR was formed to address the fiscal and constitutional challenges facing Colorado government.
The conveners of CRR are requesting that the members of the alliance respond to a proposed Statement of Agreement. The Statement addresses the sources of the worsening imbalance between revenues and costs for essential public systems, which includes our judicial system.
This article will summarize why the CBA became involved with CRR, beginning with the CBA’s involvement in similar endeavors in the last few years; describe some of CRR’s activities to date; provide an overview of the status of Colorado’s current and worsening fiscal crisis, with a focus on our Colorado judicial system; and conclude with a discussion of the current CRR request to its members.
II. CBA INVOLVEMENT IN COLORADO’S FISCAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGES
As stated in the CBA bylaws, the objects of the CBA include securing the more efficient administration of justice and encouraging the adoption of proper legislation. At the meeting of the Board of Governors in February 2004, the funding crisis in Colorado government was a topic of concern because of the impact on our state courts. Wade Buchanan, President of the Bell Policy Center, presented information about initiatives that were being drafted to address some of the unanticipated problems created by TABOR, the so-called Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights.
Following that meeting, the CBA Executive Council adopted a resolution in support of the proposed Economic Recovery Act. The proposed ballot initiative would amend TABOR and allow more revenues to be generated and retained. For political reasons the campaign did not go forward at that time.
The following year, however, a bipartisan coalition was formed to campaign for the passage of Referenda C and D. Referendum C would suspend the TABOR revenue limits through 2010 and end its downward ratchet effect on the budgets. The CBA supported the campaign on the basis that, even though the proposed amendment of TABOR would direct the additional funds to government functions other than the courts, the remaining funds would be freed up to assist in part with the judicial funding crisis. In the 2005 election Referendum D was defeated, but Referendum C passed. As expected, in the next fiscal year more funds were made available for funding the courts.
Over the next few years, however, an economic downturn worsened the state funding crisis, including funding for the courts. In addition, the relief from the TABOR revenue limits provided by Referendum C was to expire at the end of fiscal year 2009-2010. Without further action, the revenue limits would again cap any additional funds that an economic recovery might generate. As a result, the CBA in 2008 supported Amendment 59, known as “SAFE.” Amendment 59 would have provided permanent relief from the TABOR revenue limits by permitting Colorado to use funds which would otherwise have been refunded to taxpayers to fund a savings account for education. The expected result again was that the use of the excess funds for education would relieve pressure to cut funding for other purposes, including the Colorado courts. Amendment 59 did not pass.
During the same time, tension among several of the ballot initiated constitutional provisions, such as TABOR, Gallagher, and Amendment 23, was contributing to the fiscal crisis. It was becoming apparent that any long term solution to the fiscal crisis needed to include a revision to the state constitution to make it more difficult to amend the constitution with ballot initiatives requiring only a simple majority vote. In 2008 the Executive Council therefore also voted to support Referendum O, a ballot initiative to make it more difficult to amend the state constitution while making it easier to enact statutes. Referendum O likewise did not pass. Similar legislative referenda died on the last day of the next two legislative sessions.
The economic downturn continued. In addition, three new ballot initiatives, commonly known as Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, were submitted for the 2010 election. If passed by a simple majority vote, their combined impact would have been debilitating on the functioning of state government, including the judiciary. Because the purpose of CRR is to seek nonpartisan solutions to these continuing fiscal and constitutional challenges, the CBA authorized a representative to participate with CRR, but not to take any action without CBA approval. With the help of an expensive educational campaign, which the CBA supported, those three initiatives were defeated. In the meantime, however, the five-year timeout from the TABOR limit provided by Referendum C expired.