DENVER — For one Colorado man, if the Democrat-controlled state legislature acts irresponsibly, he’ll make sure the voters get a chance to respond.
While that response can come via elections for new representatives, for Michael Fields, the power of the citizen’s initiative is about undoing wrongs enacted under the gold dome, he said.
And that can be a powerful power-sharing tool in a state dominated by one political party. Under Article V, Section 1 of the Colorado Constitution, the people “reserve to themselves the power to propose laws and amendments to the constitution and to enact or reject the same at the polls independent of the general assembly…”
Fields is executive director of Colorado Rising Action a Denver-based, non-profit with a focus on conservative principles, which according to the group’s website includes fighting for lower taxes, affordable and accessible health care, free enterprise, and against over-regulation.
“If they are going to try to keep getting more money without voter approval, then we’re going to keep cutting taxes with voter approval,” Fields said about what types of initiatives he and others he works with look for.
Fields was referring to two initiatives he is currently working on, one that is in the signature-gathering phase to decrease property tax assessment rates by 9 percent for both residential and commercial.
The other is slated for the 2022 election and as it’s written currently would decrease state gasoline taxes by 4 cents per gallon.
“The disconnect with what you see in the legislature and what the people want,” Fields said is what drives him. “When voters weigh in on that, I think it’s an important check on the legislature, but also if you care about the state and you care about the direction its going in, and you’re worried about that, you want to go in and try to reverse some of these bad things and pass positive policy proposals.”
Not his first rodeo
In 2016, when he was with American’s For Prosperity, Fields was part of the coalition that overwhelmingly killed Amendment 69, which would have added a 10 percent payroll tax to fund universal healthcare in Colorado.
In 2018, Fields helped defeat Amendment 73, which would have created a progressive state income tax system to replace the existing flat income tax rate and raise taxes on many Coloradans, as well as hiking the corporate income tax rate.
And in 2019, Fields helped defeat Proposition CC, which would have effectively killed Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment by allowing the state to automatically keep over collected tax revenues rather than refunding the money to taxpayers.
It was in 2020, that Fields got on the proactive side of the initiatives working with folks like the Independence Institute’s* Jon Caldara to go to the voters with new laws, including cutting the state’s income tax (Proposition 116) and requiring voter approval on certain new “fees” and enterprise funds (Proposition 117), both of which were successful.
Caldara for his part is working on two other potential ballot measures, along with State Senators Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling and John Cooke, R-Greeley, that would again lower the state’s income tax and fund transportation out of existing revenues.
Going on the offensive
“We got the idea too, that we have to go on the offensive,” Fields said. “We don’t have majorities at the legislature, so the only way to pass policy then is to ask voters. Until we can get a policy majority in the legislature that is more common sensed, this is our only response. And if you do nothing, we’re going to continue to head in the wrong direction.”
Fields is not alone in that fight. He is currently working with coalition partners, such as the Colorado chapter of Americans For Prosperity and it’s executive director Jesse Mallory, and over the past few years, several others, including Caldara have made mitigating what they view as bad legislation a focus of elections by going directly to the people at the ballot box.
“The nice thing about the center-right coalition is we have a good line of communication and people with good ideas,” Fields said. “You get most of your ideas from other people who have been thinking about it for a while.”
While some argue the citizens’ initiative process is a distraction and the focus should rather be on putting good people in office, Fields said you have to do both.
“Both are important,” he said. “Because, even if you think you put the right people in office, the policies they pass aren’t always the ones they campaigned on or good for the state. But the other thing is in Colorado, even if you have the policy majority in the House or the Senate, it is unlikely you get all three, with the Governor. So, for us, that might just never be there again, so right now we need to go to the people.”
Amending the state Constitution
In addition to the tax cuts, Fields is also working on a constitutional amendment proposal for the 2021 election that is also currently in the signature gathering phase. That amendment would simply require all state revenue to be appropriated by the legislature. Currently, there is language in the constitution that allows for some flexibility, such as the millions of federal COVID relief money that was spent by Gov. Jared Polis without legislative approval, Fields said, also noting that Attorney General Phil Weiser’s office has a “slush fund” where all money the state wins in settlements goes, and he has full authority over that to spend as he pleases.
Both the property tax cut and the constitutional amendment must collect around 125,000 signatures by Aug. 2 to make the ballot. Fields said he is confident that will happen, despite the added requirements for the constitutional amendment that at least 2 percent of the population from Colorado’s 35 State Senate districts must be represented in the total.
“This is our response to them,” Fields said. “We’re just going to keep putting things back to where they were.”
* Independence Institute is the non-profit publisher of Complete Colorado.
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