ColoradoCare backers say Title Board’s $25 billion cost estimate ‘misleading,’ ponder suing
The Colorado Statesman
July 24, 2015
The group behind a proposed ballot initiative that aims to provide health care coverage for all Coloradans is considering suing the Colorado Title Board for “misleading” voters over the measure’s cost.
But there is doubt as to whether organizers even have that option, especially since they did not pursue ballot language remedies in the time allowed.
Initiative 20 would create ColoradoCare, a health care cooperative that would provide coverage for everyone in the state.
T.R. Reid, a spokesman for the effort, takes issue with ballot language that only states what the program will cost taxpayers, $25 billion annually. He believes this is misleading because his group estimates the cooperative will save Coloradans $6 billion in premium costs, even after those taxes are collected.
The problem, Reid argues, is with the state title board, a three-person panel that sets ballot language. The board is made up of representatives from the offices of the Secretary of State, the Attorney General and Legislative Legal Services.
“I have been arguing that we ought to sue the title board,” Reid told the Statesman. “The law says the title cannot mislead the voters.”
Asked if a lawsuit is in the works, Reid said, “We’re thinking about it.”
“It’s not clear that we can do it,” he acknowledged. “We’ve gone to a lawyer. What we need to do is point out to Coloradans that what the title board is saying is false.”
However, Tim Griesmer, a spokesman for Secretary of State Wayne Williams, said there is a process for redress if a group doesn’t like how a title is crafted. And that process wasn’t pursued by backers of ColoradoCare.
If proponents do not feel that a ballot title is fairly set at the initial hearing, they have seven days to request another hearing. If they still don’t like how the title reads, they have an additional seven days to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
“Given that the hearing for this initiative was April 15, that window is long since closed,” said Griesmer.
But Griesmer isn’t sure whether the group can sue, considering the appeal would be taken up by the state’s highest court.
“Since that is the legal appeal outlined in state law, I’m not sure that a lower court would entertain a lawsuit because it’s outside the statutory framework,” Griesmer said. “But, honestly, I’m not certain about how it would play out because I don’t think anyone has ever tried to sue the title board.”
Griesmer emphasized that the title board is a separate entity from the Secretary of State’s Office, which is only legally obligated to convene and house the board.
The $25 billion figure comes from a nonpartisan Colorado Legislative Council revenue impact analysis that was authored prior to the title hearing.
The initiative proposes a tax on “most sources of income,” including wages, capital gains, business proprietor’s income, pensions and social security benefits “to the extent taxed by the state under current law,” the analysis reads.
The fiscal note states that, when the initiative is fully implemented, “all sources of income will be taxed at a rate of 10 percent unless a different rate is approved by the provider’s elected board of trustees.”
New tax revenue for the first full year of implementation, which would be the 2019-20 fiscal year, is estimated at $25 billion.
Opponents of ColoradoCare say the measure amounts to a massive tax hike that doesn’t solve problems within the health care system.
“How is taxing Coloradans the highest tax rate in the nation going to save people money?” said Jonathan Lockwood, executive director of the conservative advocacy group Advancing Colorado.
“A 10-percent tax hike is not going to save anybody money.”
Reid said he’s heard those arguments before. And he insists that a system that provides health-care for all — and one that removes the state from the Affordable Care Act — will save greatly benefit the state.
“It covers everybody. It saves billions. And gets us out of Obamacare,” Reid said.