Amendment 74: The truth behind Colorado's proposed amendment to strengthen property rights

Oil and gas is funding ads in favor of 74

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DENVER -- It's only 11 words, but if passed, Amendment 74 would add the words "Reduced in fair market value by government law or regulation" to our state constitution and make Colorado's property rights the most extreme in the country.

"These words absolutely matter because no one knows what they mean," said Sam Mamet with the Colorado Municipal League.

Supporters say it's about protecting property rights.

"Amendment 74 is all about protecting property rights," said Chad Vorthmann, Executive Vice President of the Colorado Farm Bureau.

A proposed change to Colorado's constitution, Amendment 74 would force governments to compensate property owners when a law or regulation reduces the "fair market value" of their property.

Here's an example: Say the city approves a pot shop across the street from a house. If the homeowner can get proof from a real estate agent that the city's decision to green light that pot shop lowered their property value, even by say, 10 percent, under the amendment, that homeowner could now take the city to court for what they lost.

Under current laws, a property owner only gets compensation from a direct government action when a city takes nearly all their property value.

"If you have to show that up to 90 percent of your property was taken before you can even seek compensation, why are you going to go through that kind of expense?" explained Vorthmann.

The Colorado Farm Bureau is the face of Amendment 74, but that is not the group dolling out the millions to fund it. We develop that point later in the article. 

Supporters stress it's about leveling the playing field and giving property owners equal rights.

"Our amendment is meant to address that issue, if government takes your property you should be compensated."

Opponents call Amendment 74 "TABOR 2.0"

While on its surface it may sound like a good idea, opponents of Amendment 74 are calling it TABOR 2.0. They stress it's a disaster for taxpayers because they are the ones who will foot the bill if a city or state should have to pay up.

"I've been doing this for almost 40 years. It may be the single worst measure I've ever seen on the ballot," said Mamet with the Colorado Municipal League.

Mamet said words matter, especially when they are placed in the state constitution, and those 11 words are way too broad.

"What exactly does "fair market value" mean? Let alone what does the word "reduce" mean? This isn't a debate over private property rights. It's a debate over the lack of clarity, that's the problem," he said.

Mamet along with more than 100 elected city leaders across the state have come out against Amendment 74.

He warns every local government decision could be impacted and subject to a lawsuit under the measure. Those will be costly court battles that he argues no city or town can afford.

"An adjacent property owner may say very simply, 'I don't want that development next to me, that's going to reduce the value of my property and if you approve it - I'll see you in court,'" explained Mamet.

Oil and gas industry is the real muscle behind the campaign

Let's go back to the oil and gas industry and their perspective on this issue.

"We have not taken a position on it," said Dan Haley, President of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Haley said his industry is neutral on Amendment 74.

"Our focus is on 112 and making sure Coloradans see it for what it is," he said.

However, opponents of Amendment 74 said they want voters to see it for what it really is.

"The whole campaign in support of 74 is being funded by a few select sectors of the oil and gas industry and they need to come out from behind the curtains," said Mamet.

Records show a political group called Protect Colorado has shelled out nearly $3 million for advertising in favor of Amendment 74. The group is funded by the state's largest oil and gas companies.

The oil companies — along with farmers and ranchers — see the amendment as a way to hedge their bet against Proposition 112. A statewide ballot measure that forces new drill rigs 2,500 feet from occupied buildings homes, schools, and other vulnerable areas.

IN DEPTH | Proposition 112: Will it protect or harm Colorado?

Amendment 74 essentially gives them a way to seek compensation from the state if new regulations, or new drilling restrictions are passed and diminish the value of their land or ability to develop their mineral rights.

"How much does this have to do with mineral rights and Prop 112?" asked Denver7 reporter Jennifer Kovaleski.

"This is related, but it's not closely tied, this is about all properties," responded Vorthmann with the Colorado Farm Bureau.

"If it's not tied to oil and gas, why is oil and gas funding all of your advertising?" asked Kovaleski.

"They're not funding it all. We have a broad group of supporters," said Vorthmann.

Mamet said no matter how you look at it, oil and gas is the real muscle behind Amendment 74's campaign.

"It's being funded and paid for by certain companies in the state. Oil and gas companies that have some scores to settle with some local governments they feel have overreached in their regulations relative to oil and gas and I think using the constitution as their private playground is really wrong," he explained.

As the debate rages on this election, one thing is clear: If TABOR has taught us anything, Mamet said, is that changing the state constitution is a move that is hard to undo.

"You put something in the constitution, it's rare to have something removed, especially this fundamental," he said.

A complex ballot box fight that will require a "yes" vote from 55 percent of Colorado voters to change our state's most important document.

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