Voters cast their ballots in downtown Denver on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

When focused on substantive policies, and not just personal smears and scare tactics, politics can bring people from divergent perspectives together. 

I know that seems hard to believe during the current presidential battle, but Coloradans need to look no further than the campaign to pass Amendment B to see that it is true. The statewide effort to repeal the Gallagher Amendment has drawn an astoundingly diverse coalition of supporters.

I first got involved as an attorney working with the campaign for that very reason. Former Secretary of State Bernie Buescher reached out and asked if I would be willing to help. It did not take much convincing.

Mario Nicolais

First, in two decades working in Colorado politics, I have only heard superlatives about Buescher. Smart, dedicated and congenial, he draws as much praise from Republicans as he does from members of his own party. The opportunity to work with him on a project naturally enticed me.

Second, and more important, the cause he took up is critical to Colorado.

The Gallagher Amendment is a relic of antiquity from our state’s history. A proper explanation requires charts and graphs and complex calculations. It runs a full seven pages in Colorado’s 2020 State Ballot Information Booklet, the explanatory “Blue Book” sent to voters.

Effectively, Gallagher artificially reduces residential property tax rates at the cost of businesses. As a homeowner, that initially sounds great. But the unintended ramifications have had devastating effects.

Not only do businesses face a disproportionate tax burden, but small, rural communities where residential values have not grown as fast, have been crippled by reductions in revenue streams.

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That means local first responders and schools and hospitals all face regular cuts. Sometimes those cuts lead to closures. Anyone living in a part of the state where getting necessary hospital care can mean a multiple-hour drive can attest to impacts those cuts impose.

Amendment B effectively freezes rates where they are today so that the drip of funds to those communities is not shut off entirely. It does not increase taxes or open the faucet any further. Only a future vote of the people could do that.

It is against that backdrop that Amendment B brought together one of the most impressive lists of endorsements in state history.

While Buescher is a middle-of-the-road politician liked by people on both sides of the aisle, several other supporters make for the most unlikely of allies. For example, former U.S. Senators Hank Brown (Republican) and Ken Salazar (Democrat) are icons for opposite political parties.

Similarly, it is a bit of a shock to find Republican strategist and master of the political zinger Dick Wadhams fighting together with former Denver Mayor and Democratic powerbroker Wellington Webb.

Beyond individual luminaries, Amendment B brought together organizations that usually spend millions of dollars campaigning against each other in legislative seats. The number of times labor unions like the Colorado AFL-CIO have teamed up with trade groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) can be counted with one hand, if not with a solitary finger.

Any proposal that can be cast as a tax increase — and again, Amendment B is not — has historically been difficult to pass in Colorado. Despite the increasingly blue tinge of the office holders across the state, voters like to keep the reins tight.

But Coloradans aren’t about to strangle the horse, either.

When a once well-intentioned law continues to inadvertently harm our communities, Coloradans tend to band together and do the right thing. The comically diverse list of people and groups supporting Amendment B demonstrates that very dynamic.

Despite the complex issues that pervade Gallagher and its repeal, the central message of each of those endorsements is clear: Amendment B is the right thing to do for Colorado.

Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq

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Mario Nicolais

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