Every year, Coloradans hear about the challenges of balancing the state budget. Amendment 72 is bad fiscal policy, and will further complicate our hard work for a balanced budget. There are already several conflicting spending requirements in the Colorado Constitution — such as education spending — and ever-increasing federal mandates for healthcare. Legislators want to be able to optimize the budget and make the best decisions at the right times for Coloradans, but it’s difficult to provide the basic services that taxpayers expect while having to adhere to forced spending mandates in the Constitution. Our state budget is complex enough without adding one more stupid constitutional spending mandate to tangle it further.
Amendment 72 is just another mandate that would lock $315 million per year in new spending into our state’s constitution, with no specific goals and with virtually no oversight or accountability. The programs funded by this tax hike have not even been determined, and 51 percent of the new spending would go toward grants for which grant guidelines have not even been written yet. This is simply bad government policy, and will undermine the confidence of taxpayers in how their hard-earned dollars are spent. If Colorado is going to increase taxes, voters deserve to know exactly how the money will be spent, and that it will not be wasted or arbitrarily diverted by the legislature.
The proponents of Amendment 72 have not been transparent. They claim these funds support smoking prevention and cessation, yet less than 20 percent of the new tax dollars will go toward these programs. Colorado has more important budget needs like better schools, more money for roads and maintenance and funding for local governments. Amendment 72 would dedicate zero dollars to any of these important needs.
Colorado already funds smoking cessation programs that have already been effective enough to significantly lower tobacco use and the revenue from tobacco sales, so it is unlikely that additional punitive controls will produce the revenue promised by Amendment 72. Any new state programs would also depend on declining tobacco revenue. If new tobacco revenue is not available, special interests will almost certainly turn to other taxpayer money to supplement their pet projects at the expense of other pressing needs. The truth is, Amendment 72 will certainly encourage a growth in black market smuggling of illegal cigarettes, more expensive enforcement and more “tobacco criminals” to house in our prisons.
As most voters, we are not smokers and want to encourage smokers to quit. Unfortunately, Amendment 72 is designed as a “sin tax” to punish poor smokers to pay for unrelated projects for special interests. Of course, rich smokers can continue to smoke, but won’t be as penalized as much as the poor. That’s just bad policy and lacks compassion to the poor who are already strapped with tremendously expensive tobacco taxes and basic costs of living.
Voters need to be very careful about any vote to change the constitution, especially for highly-funded special interests. In case of waste, fraud, abuse or a fiscal emergency, the only way to change it would be another statewide vote of the people. Please join us in voting no on Amendment 72.
David Schultheis is a former state senator. Sen. Kent Lambert is vice chairman of the Joint Budget Committee and vice chairman of Senate Appropriations Committee. He represents Senate District 9, which includes parts of Colorado Springs.