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Opinion Columns

Zornio: Colorado’s 2021 elections are too important to skip. Here are my picks

Evaluating Amendment 78, Propositions 119 and 120 and select local initiatives

It’s the best time of year in Colorado: yellowing aspens, cool mountain air and ballots arriving effortlessly by mail.

As a state, we feature one of the most robust vote-by-mail systems in the nation. Regrettably, off-cycle elections can still see a drop in turnout, and sometimes lead to changes that may not otherwise reflect the majority. This makes it all the more important to vote each year.

The following are my picks for the 2021 elections. You should still review the proposals using the State Ballot Information Booklet and the articles provided below. If you did not receive the booklet by mail, you can access it at leg.colorado.gov/bluebook.

Trish Zornio (Photo by Holly Hursley Photography)

Amendment 78

This measure asks voters if we should amend the state constitution to require legislative authority to spend state money. It requires a 55% majority to pass.

As is often the case, the title of this amendment is a bit misleading. The General Assembly already oversees state revenue in budgeting. This amendment targets additional oversight for custodial funds, meaning non-recurring funds such as federal pandemic assistance.

However, custodial funds are also already reviewed by the Joint Budget Committee, and adding oversight carries unintended consequences, including delays of emergency funds. You can read more pros and cons in coverage by The Colorado Sun and Colorado Public Radio.

Vote: No

Proposition 119

This measure asks voters to decide if we should create a Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress program. Passage requires a simple majority.

The program would assist children of low-income families in paying for out-of-school learning opportunities. There is bipartisan support, including from former Govs. Bill Ritter and Bill Owens, former Sen. Mark Udall, and current state Sens. Rhonda Fields and Bob Gardner. 

The benefits of assisting low-income students with after-school opportunities cannot be overstated. Children of wealthier families continue to have access to private tutors, second language coaching, mental health services and more. This has allowed their school performance to increase much faster, particularly during the pandemic. Critically, this is not a voucher program. The text explicitly states funds cannot be used for private school tuition or a student’s regular curriculum. 

There are significant drawbacks. This measure does not address the underlying lack of public school funding for regular curriculum, and even diverts some funds from public schools to create this initiative. It also further raises taxes on the cannabis industry, and creates a governor-appointed board of directors with some unclear trajectories. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

On weight, it’s a tougher call than the other measures on the ballot. However, the arguments for helping children of low-income families to keep up with their wealthier peers outweighs the drawbacks. Other attempts for reform — such as addressing the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights — are too far out of reach to be helpful for today’s students. Continuing to allow low-income children to suffer lifelong consequences in the pursuit of perfection is not effective politics.

For more in-depth reviews, read more at The Colorado Sun and Colorado Public Radio.

Vote: Yes

Proposition 120

This measure asks voters if they want to permanently lower property tax assessment rates specifically for multifamily housing and lodging properties. It would also let the state keep the money to fund existing property tax exemptions. It requires a simple majority to pass.

The impact to local governments — and therefore local services — could be significant and would vary statewide. This would include likely reductions to education, fire and police departments, transportation and libraries. 

Vote: No

Select local initiatives

Boulder: Vote “Yes” on 300 for increased housing affordability and sustainability.

Denver: Vote “No” on 2F to maintain housing affordability and sustainability.

Broomfield: Vote “Yes” on 2A to implement ranked choice voting.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

School board candidates

Many local areas have school board candidates up for election. These positions are incredibly important, particularly as our school boards are under attack from anti-democratic groups.

Please do not leave these sections blank. Using their websites and social media pages, at minimum you should ensure your candidates acknowledge COVID-19 precautions and the free and fair elections of 2020, and they don’t pander to attacks on critical race theory. You can also look for endorsements by trusted representatives, the Colorado Education Association, the Working Families Party and local unions.


Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.


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