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Energy, roads top proposed Colorado ballot initiatives

Posted: 5:07 PM, Aug 06, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-06 23:07:43Z

DENVER (AP) — Petitions for an anti-fracking measure and an energy industry-backed property rights initiative topped the list of proposed November ballot questions submitted to Colorado's secretary of state ahead of a Monday deadline.

Petitions on transportation and schools funding also were submitted by sponsors who must meet a threshold of nearly 98,500 valid voter signatures — plus geographic requirements in the case of proposed constitutional amendments — to be voted on in November.

Secretary of State Wayne Williams' office will vet each over 30 days to determine if requirements were met.

Initiative 97  , sponsored by Boulder-based Colorado Rising, would redraw the energy map in a state that's become the nation's No. 5 natural gas producer and No. 7 producer of oil.

It would increase setbacks between new energy operations and homes, schools and "vulnerable areas" that include parks, creeks and irrigation canals. And it would allow local governments to enact even greater setbacks.

Current setbacks prohibit development on about 18 acres surrounding a given point; the measure would expand that to 450 surrounding acres, according to a state legislative analysis. Another state analysis suggests the initiative would rule out 85 percent of non-federal land to development and drastically reduce property taxes paid by the $32 billion industry. Those taxes totaled $470 million in fiscal year 2016-17.

Current law gives the state jurisdiction over setbacks.

It's the latest attempt to harness drilling along Colorado's metropolitan Denver area, whose rapid expansion has encroached once-isolated oil and gas fields. Previous efforts have failed, despite advocates' concerns about health and drilling rigs close to schools.

Colorado Rising said it struggled with its contract signature collectors in recent weeks. One circulator quit in a payment dispute. Volunteers complained of harassment by opponents as they solicited signatures, and the Boulder County District Attorney's Office said it is reviewing a handful of complaints.

"I think we did what we could, when we're going up against most powerful industry in the world," said Suzanne Spiegel, a lead organizer.

Protect Colorado, one of several industry-funded committees fighting the measure, acknowledged it sent observers to monitor some Colorado Rising petition-gatherers but denied any harassment.

"We've asked people to let us know where people are circulating and what they're saying," spokeswoman Karen Crummy said. "Sometimes the information that canvassers who want signatures give out isn't inaccurate."

An industry-backed initiative would expand the rights of property owners to seek government compensation for actions that diminish the "fair market value," not just the physical value, of their property. Supporters of proposed constitutional amendment known as  Initiative 108  turned in more than 200,000 signatures on Friday.

Denver-based attorney Jason Dunn, President Donald Trump's nominee to be the new U.S. attorney for the District of Colorado, and sponsors drafted the initiative, said Shawn Martini, vice president of advocacy for the Colorado Farm Bureau, the measure's prime backer.

Martini called it a "good government" measure that lowers the burden for Coloradans seeking compensation from government. He acknowledged that courts would have to determine what "fair market value" is.

"We think that if government takes property, for example through an expanded setback, there should be the right of compensation," said Protect Colorado's Crummy. "This is really intended as a statewide fix to a void in the Constitution."

Sam Mamet, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, warned the proposal would unleash litigation over all sorts of claims, including zoning changes, and taxpayers would have to pay for it.

"I don't know what 'fair market value' means. No one has a definition of it," Mamet said. "I told our local governments: If this passes, I wouldn't act. If you do, you'll get sued. They have deep pockets. We don't."

Also submitted:

Initiative 153  would raise state taxes to fund $6 billion in transportation bonds.  Initiative 167  would issue $3.5 billion in bonds for roads without raising taxes.

Initiative 93  would raise state taxes by $1.6 billion annually for K-12 schools.

Initiative 126  would cap payday loan annual percentage rates at 36 percent.

Initiative 173  would increase contribution limits for state office candidates whose opponents contribute more than $1 million to their own campaigns.