DALLAS -- In what may be a watershed year for Colorado politics, voters this fall will consider a record number of ballot initiatives that would do everything from limit the growth of government to restrict bear hunting.
As many as 50 different proposals are headed toward the Tuesday deadline. By then, sponsors must file at least 49,279 valid signatures with the secretary of state to secure a place on the November ballot.
While it may be a month before the fates of most are known, it is already certain that at least one initiative will face a statewide vote for the third consecutive election. That initiative is a constitutional amendment limiting the ability of state and local governments to raise revenues and spend what they have.
In past years, the amendment and its author, Colorado Springs landlord Douglas Bruce, have been turned back with an aggressive, well-financed campaign waged by the state's bond dealers, business interests, government groups, and leading politicians.
This year, however, the diverse and complex mix of ballot issues may divert attention away from Mr. Bruce. Another more moderate government-limiting measure advocated by the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, however, is not expected to garner enough signatures to make the ballot.
Further, Gov. Roy Romer, the most high-profile critic of tax and spending limits, is expected to focus on his statutory proposal to raise the state sales tax one cent to generate an estimated $320 million a year for Colorado schools.
"I'm happy the governor's going to be on the ballot," said Mr. Bruce, conceding that the governor probably will not have much time to campaign against the constitutional amendment. "The boring old tax limitation which usually loses isn't getting the attention it usually does."
At the Colorado Municipal League, one official admitted his group may have to take positions against as many as dozen ballot issues adversely affecting local government rather than focus exclusively on the Bruce amendment.
"We've never had quite a situation like this before in Colorado," said Sam Mamet, associate director of the league. "Its quite possible than the ballot could collapse from the weight of all the issues. Because there are so many, the old adage may apply that when in doubt, vote no."
Still, critics of the proposal see the Bruce amendment, knows as the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, as a greater threat than ever to government finances and debt issuance.
The proposal would limit the ability of state and local governments in Colorado to raise new revenues without a majority vote. It would also restrict government spending to a complex formula that critics say would not allow cities to use all revenue generated by local economic growth.
"It would hamstring government," said Wayne Nielsen, first vice president and manager at Kirkpatrick, Pettis, Smith, Polian Inc. In Denver and president of the Colorado Municipal Bond Dealers Association.
Also, the Bruce amendment would require voter approval of all debt instruments with a maturity of more than one year. That would mean that debt such as certificates of participation and revenue debt now exempt from voting requirements could be approved only at the general election every two years.
"Any kind of debt that we're aware of would have to be voted on at the next general election," said Mr. Nielsen. "Governments cannot work in that kind of situation."
While they have criticized the Bruce proposal as draconian, state lawmakers failed this spring to draft their own more moderate alternative for the ballot.
While no competing proposal may be on the November ballot, the Bruce amendment will hardly be alone. As the deadline approaches, as many as two dozen special-interest groups ate expected to file petitions by tomorrow's deadline.
Many proposals have implications for government. Several measures would legalize gambling in parts of Colorado, while another would rewrite the constitution to require that all lottery proceeds be spent on parks, recreation, and public lands as promised when the lottery passed in 1980.
Of course, one of the largest initiatives will be the measures to increase funding for Colorado schools. But because it would involve raising the sales tax, which accounts for two-thirds of the funding for some cities, the municipal league may oppose it.
Other issues not expected to make the ballot have cause more chuckles than consternation in the capitol. One proposal would restrict how bears could be hunted in the Rocky Mountain state, another would legalize hemp, and another would give horses the right of way in traffic.
"I don't write them and I don't make them up," quipped Mr. Mamet after listing a dozen of the proposals. "You name it, we've got it."