Colorado considers supermajority for constitutional referenda 

How difficult should it be for citizens to change their state constitution? They'll be deciding that question in Colorado, where the state Senate is considering Concurrent Resolution 1, which would raise the threshold for constitutional referenda to 60 percent.

The measure is supported by both political parties -- it is co-sponsored by six of 15 GOP senators and 16 of 33 GOP representatives -- but Paul Jacob, president of the Citizens in Charge Foundation, denounces it as an anti-democratic measure which "places the Colorado Constitution in the hands of a minority of voters."

Jacob, a conservative referendum activist, writes:

The raised percentage empowers the same big money special interests endorsing SCR-1 (and preparing to spend considerable sums of money urging its passage) by providing a new electoral terrain where their financial advantage can defeat any future reform proposal. By purchasing enough 30-second TV attack ads, big business or big labor can almost always hold down majority support to at least one vote under 60 percent.

Another noteworthy consideration Jacob raises: Amendments passed prior to this could still be repealed with simple majority votes.

One of the most important provisions which could be affected is Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), which. . . remains the most effective control voters have yet discovered on runaway government spending. . . . This is anathema to the government employee unions wanting ever-more goodies and to politicians who like to give away taxpayer-funded trinkets to various constituencies.

There is a counterargument to this -- namely that constitutions are supposed to be stable. Supermajority requirements can add stability and prevent voters from narrowly passing special interest amendments. For example, in 2000, a 52.6 majority of Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment requiring development of a multi-billion dollar high-speed monorail. It took another campaign, in 2004, to convince voters to undo what they had done.

In 2006, Florida made the change Colorado legislators are hoping to make, raising the required majority to 60 percent. The measure passed with less than 60 percent of the vote. This did not, however, prevent last year's redistricting inititiatives from passing, over the objections of most legislators.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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