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Amendment 78: Who should spend state money?

To understand what Amendment 78 wants you to change about how state money is spent, you first need to know how Colorado spends money.

DENVER — This story is part of a series of statewide ballot issue reviews for Next: We Don't Have To Agree, But Let's Just Vote.

To understand what Amendment 78 wants you to change about how state money is spent, you first need to know how Colorado spends money. Check out this primer from May 2020 when Gov. Jared Polis (D) decided how the state would spend $1.67 billion in COVID relief funds from the CARES Act. 

AMENDMENT 78

A YES vote means you want the state legislature to handle how money is spent outside of the normal budget process. The normal budget process covers areas like education, health care, human services, courts and prisons. This would put money the state legislature does not currently control, under its control.

Two examples include COVID emergency relief funds from the federal government and legal settlements that the attorney general's office handles.

A YES vote also means the interest from these funds would be used for general budget use.

A NO vote keeps the state legislature separate from these types of funds.

The governor would still have executive order power to spend money like COVID-relief funds, and the attorney general would still be able to decide how to divvy up money from legal settlements.

Amendment 78 qualified for the ballot by petition. Colorado Rising Action collected the required 124,632 signatures.

Because it would change the state's constitution, it requires 55% approval to pass.

Here are some examples of "custodial money" that does not go through the state legislature.

In May 2020, Colorado received $1.67 billion in CARES Act funds. Under an executive order, Polis determined how it would be split.

A snapshot of some of the spending:

  • $510 million will go to the Colorado Department of Education for K-12 funding, but the spending must be on compliance with COVID-19-related public health measures.
  • $450 million will be for the Colorado Department of Higher Education for spending that is also compliant with COVID-19 related public health measures.
  • $275 million is for local governments that did not receive CARES Act funding directly.
  • $70 million will go to the general fund, which lawmakers have discretion over.

Voting in favor of Amendment 78 means that you want the state legislature to determine how money like that would be spent.

The attorney general's office handles legal settlements involving the state.

Recently, the attorney general's office has handled $400 million in opioid settlements, with the most recent from Johnson & Johnson and Purdue Pharma. Attorney General Phil Weiser (D) has determined that the majority of that money will go to local governments for drug treatment, recovery and prevention programs.

In an August settlement announcement, Weiser refunded $8 million to CenturyLink customers who were deceptively overcharged.

Voting in favor of Amendment 78 would put that kind of money in the hands of the state legislature to decide how to divvy up.

Custodial money often come with rules attached. For instance, the COVID money from the federal government had restrictions for how it could be used, but the rules were fairly loose.

State lawmakers normally meet for 120-day session from January until early May.

If the state legislature were required to control this money, and hold at least one public hearing, it could delay the use of the money versus the current structure, or it could require a special session after May. Previous special sessions have cost the state $25,000 a day. Since it takes a minimum of three days in Colorado to pass a bill, a special session could cost at least $75,000.

If Amendment 78 were to pass, depending on how the legislature interprets some of the funding, money from colleges and universities, like dorm and athletics fees, that are currently under the purview of Boards of Regents/Governors, could be controlled by the state legislature.

If you plan to return your ballot by mail, it is recommended that you mail it back by Monday, Oct. 25, so that it has time to be received by Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 2.

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