I attended one of the meetings put on by Building a Better Colorado (BBC). It was a thinly veiled attempt to control the narrative on several issues facing Colorado.
This was a two-hour session run by a moderator for a group of about 60 people. The time started with the moderator describing the 3 broad problems/issues (as defined by BBC) to be discussed. Then some time was spent on each issue/problem. Each issue/problem was put in front of the group with various possible responses/solutions. 10 or so minutes were given for each table of 4-8 people to discuss, and then a series of possible responses/solutions were put to a multiple choice vote for that issue/problem. Clicker devices were distributed for people to vote on each response/solution.
The three broad issues were 1) the initiative process for amendments to state law and amendments to the constitution, 2) fiscal policy and TABOR, and 3) the primary voting process.
Here was the basic formula:
Premise: There’s a problem, and here’s our definition/spin on what it is.
What should we do? A. Nothing, B. Our potential Ballot Initiative, C. Our other potential Ballot Initiative.
Vote on how you feel about A.
Vote on how you feel about B.
Vote on how you feel about C.
Here are some specific examples, quoting directly from the handout used in the presentation. After talking about what a huge problem the initiative process is, 2 questions were asked. Here is question #2…
“Should we require a higher threshold for passage of amendments to the CONSTITUTION than for citizen-initiated amendments to state LAW?”
Vote on A: “Maintain current policy…” Of course, a majority of people, having just heard what a problem this is, vote that we need to do something.
Vote on B: “Make it harder to amend the constitution by requiring future amendments to be approved by a supermajority (2/3) vote, but allow fixes/changes to existing language to be approved by the same simple-majority threshold by which it was adopted initially.” People pick from 3 levels of support and 3 levels of opposition.
That’s it. No other choices. On to the next topic.
It was similar with TABOR.
“Educating” us on fiscal policy, we were told that Amendment 23 mandates K-12 spending “… must grow at the rate of student enrollment + inflation” and that K-12 makes up 40% of our $11.3 billion dollar budget. They never discussed the entire state budget (more like $26 billion), but only this General Fund portion. We were also told that in addition to K-12 Education, Medicaid was the other huge expense for the state, taking up 30% of the budget, and it was growing at an unsustainable rate. We were then told that the population of people age 65+ in Colorado would grow from 10% to 20% over the next 20 years. In conclusion, we were told that – as a direct result of Amendment 23 mandated K-12 spending plus Medicaid funding driven by an aging population – the state’s general fund budget of $11 billion would be completely swallowed up by those two budget items in 10-15 years.
Two people pointed out that Medicaid is needs-based, not age-based, so tying a projected demographic shift to an assumed massive increase in Medicaid did not necessarily make sense.
I also pointed out to the group that the massive increase in Medicaid spending over the last 5+ years in Colorado had been due, in large part, to a massive increase in eligibility as a result of the policies of the executive and legislative branches of the Colorado state government, and this was something that was under the control of state politicians and not a mandated demographic-driven immutable force. The moderator’s grudging admission that this was true was cloaked in his spin of basically responding that ‘sure, you could kick people off of Medicaid to save expenses, that’s one way to do it…’ At this point another man in the group spoke up and said, ‘no, that’s not what’s being proposed – there are other legitimate alternatives that could be pursued that aren’t being presented.’
The good news is that not everyone there was drinking the Kool-Aid, but there weren’t enough of us in attendance.
Regarding TABOR, the presenting language included, “… as has been done in a majority of counties, municipalities, school and special districts, voters would be asked to allow the state to retain and use the revenues it receives above the existing limit, commonly referred to as ‘de-Brucing.’” And also, “In all cases, the amount retained would be limited to the amount generated by existing tax rates.” And of course the moderator derisively told us that the TABOR refunds would only amount to $50 this year, so we should start planning on how to use all of those big bucks. It was also in writing that TABOR refunds were “est. at between $16 and $50 per taxpayer in FY15-16”
After all that spin, the first question for a vote was if we should maintain the status quo. Of course the answer that they were pushing for is no to status quo – we must do something about this huge problem.
The very next issue was identified as, “Policies that would allow the State to retain revenues beyond the TABOR limit that would otherwise be refunded.”
There were 2 responses presented for a vote:
Vote on A: “Allow the state to keep revenue beyond current limits and give the legislature flexibility to establish funding priorities.” There were three levels of support and three levels of opposition. The results here were mixed, modestly supportive of gutting TABOR.
Vote on B: “Allow the state to keep revenue beyond current limits and dedicate it to specific programs or services such as K-12 education, transportation, economic development, higher education, mental health and senior programs, rural broadband, and/or a Rainy Day Fund.” For an answer, we were told to select any 3 of those identified programs or services that the retained taxes should be dedicated towards.
On to the next problem/issue… but wait…
At this point, someone in the audience raised their hand and said, “Wait a minute, you’re assuming that we want the state to keep the TABOR refunds. You haven’t even given us a choice to vote no on that.” Someone else said, “That’s right, and you’ve said that you’ve been honing these questions throughout your months long process – hasn’t anyone else in all these other groups pointed that out?” Amazingly, the moderator said that in all of the meetings to date (dozens), that this was only the first or second time anyone had raised that point!
It was the same story for open primaries.
One additional topic that was briefly covered was the “Hospital Provider Fee,” and the push to classify it in order to avoid TABOR. We were told that this was not on the table for a ballot initiative because the legislature was going to go to work on the issue this session. He then went on to tell us that the hospital fee helped pay for the state’s share of Medicaid and how wonderful it was. It was then explained that the fees were included in the TABOR calculation, forcing cuts in other areas. If the fees were exempt from TABOR then these cuts could be avoided. We then got to vote on whether we should do something about that. Of course the answer was yes.
This process was a complete sham. One-sided presentations of possible issues followed by limited (selected) choices for responses. In addition, the questions were horribly worded and presented, often including multiple variables within each response. Those familiar with the scientific process will understand why that’s a problem – you test things by isolating and testing one variable while controlling the others, not presenting a hodge-podge of leading questions with a limited number of multi-faceted responses that drive people toward the answers you want to report.
Are there issues that need to be addressed in Colorado? Yes. Is this a legitimate effort to educate people and gather informed input? No. This was an absolute sham. It’s clear that BBC is spending a lot of time and money to generate a false narrative to push their agenda, conjuring up highly manipulated “input” and calling it bi-partisan “consensus” to use for their coming campaigns in November. Hold on to your wallets. In reality this was a cleverly disguised focus group for testing out various messaging approaches for ballot initiatives they plan to run.