Magazine Feature / People

House speaker wants to reform the state constitution

Colorado Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, laid out his plan for fixing the fiscal foibles in Colorado’s Constitution to a University of Denver panel studying constitutional reform.

Speaking to the DU 2007 Strategic Issues Panel Sept. 14, Romanoff called for a two-step ballot process to untangle conflicting constitutional amendments that many experts say impede state economic planning. His plan calls for asking voters in 2008 to suspend the state’s single-subject ballot restriction for two years. During that time, the legislature will craft a multi-subject initiative for the 2010 ballot that would reconcile the conflicting mandates of Amendment 23, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), the Gallagher Amendment and the Bird Arvechoug law.

These provisions call for raising school funding, limiting spending, shifting property taxes from residents to business and refunding excess revenue. Left in place, Romanoff said, they could spell disaster for future generations who are struggling to maintain funding for schools, roads and health care.

“I believe the test of our leadership is whether we can leave the state in better shape for our children and grandchildren,” Romanoff said.

The impending challenge Romanoff describes is to a great extent what led this year’s DU Strategic Issues Panel to study the state constitution. A previous DU panel — the Colorado Economic Futures Panel — concluded that fiscal restraints added to the state’s easily-amended constitution spelled disaster for long-term state planning and budgeting. 

The success of that panel led DU Chancellor Robert Coombe to establish the Strategic Issues Program, whereby DU will each year empanel a non-partisan group of citizens from across the state to study critical state issues. The constitution panel is hearing from experts and is expected to issue a report to the public and the legislature in early January. Both panels and the new program are led by Jim Griesemer, professor and dean emeritus of the Daniels College of Business.

Romanoff was joined in his Sept. 14 discussion by Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park. White and Romanoff attended several community meetings targeting constitutional reform this summer. White supports the two-step plan; however, he would like to see a constitutional convention to remove not only fiscal restraints, but also “embarrassing” constitutional amendments like those restricting animal trapping. 

Both legislators thanked panel members for their deliberations and encouraged them to focus public opinion on Colorado’s constitutional conundrum and lend credibility to legislative efforts to reform the document.

“This is just what we need — an honest, soul-searching conversation about what we’ve done to ourselves,” Romanoff said.

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