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Legislators leave unfinished business to voters

By John Stencel

Unfortunately, the Colorado Legislature closed its latest session without acting on a number of important issues. The voting public via general election referenda will now have to deal with much of the Legislature’s unfinished business.

Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s board recently decided to sign on with other supporters on two of the referenda.

The first is a measure—enactment of a renewable energy standard—has been rejected repeatedly by the Legislature despite its support by a broad base of consumer, utility, local government and other groups.

The renewable energy standard initiative is a relatively modest but productive proposal that would mandate increased levels of renewable energy use in Colorado. Wind energy has become increasingly efficient over the last several years and is now competitive with coal and fossil fuels. In addition, energy development from wind creates economic opportunities for many rural communities.

The renewable energy standard proposed in this initiative will attract new businesses and create additional jobs. It also is good for the environment, as it will reduce the amount of water needed to generate electricity, while reducing U.S. dependence of foreign oil. Another referendum supported by Rocky Mountain Farmers Union is Initiative 89, a proposal to increase taxes on tobacco products sold in Colorado and use the additional revenue to provide health care for children and low income populations, as well as to treat those suffering from cancer, heart and lung disease. While higher cigarette prices will likely be a deterrent to young smokers, we support this initiative because it is necessary to make up for some of the shortfalls in the state budget that affect health care programs. In addition, the money raised by the increase in tobacco taxes would be used for anti-smoking education for young people.

There also is great urgency for the state of Colorado to deal with its budget crisis. Gov. Bill Owens has until Aug. 7 to call the Legislature back into special session to solve this severe and urgent problem. Without changes to the TABOR Amendment and Amendment 23, the state budget funding used to operate prisons, cooperative extension, and institutions of higher learning will continue to dwindle.

Obviously this must be fixed. If the Colorado Legislature does not take action within the coming few weeks, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union will be the first in line to join the coalitions to put this issue on the ballot.

Constitutional amendments and initiatives are usually complicated for those of us who haven’t devoted our lives to understanding the ins and outs of such initiatives. Further complicating them is the advertising that we are exposed to by both opponents and proponents of these measures. Therefore, I encourage each voter to get acquainted with the initiatives and proposed amendments that will be on the ballot. Our futures depend on our willingness to educate ourselves.