September 29, 2022
 | 10:51 am

On mushrooms and affordable lunches

Your guide to (some of) the 2022 ballot initiatives

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The conventional wisdom and statistics suggest voters are more likely to show up for a presidential election than a midterm. Here in Pueblo County, Clerk and Recorder election canvass numbers show (, 59.31% of registered voters cast ballots in the November 2018 midterm race compared to 77.17% in 2020’s historic presidential election, when Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump. In 2014, midway through Barack Obama’s second term, 65.65% of registered voters cast a ballot, compared with 92.24% in 2012 (Obama vs. Mitt Romney).

What are our takeaways from that? Pueblo County residents vote – and they vote a lot when the candidates or the initiatives are considered high stakes. Given the socio-political undertones of the past few years, it’s hard to imagine higher stakes than now.

Down the ballot, past the flashy and important but not-so-flashy names, lie the ballot measures. These initiatives – some amendments to the state constitution and some just looking for direction – ask voters to decide some major policy issues that could dramatically reshape the direction of governance and impact Pueblo.

This year, Coloradans will be asked their opinions on three constitutional amendments and eight amendments to state law. They range from an amendment reallocating judges to a different Denver-area judicial district to a plan that would limit tax deductions for high-earning households to support free meals for all public school students. There is also an initiative that would reduce the state income tax rate by .15% for all residents and one that would allocate a 0.01% sales tax to affordable housing.

To help ease confusion as you wade through the measures, we created this guide to several of the biggest questions on the ballot. When we refer to something as “pro” or “con,” that’s not a Pueblo Star Journal opinion; we don’t endorse candidates or issues. It’s just what the advocates and opponents have to say about the initiative.

Constitutional amendments require at least 55% ballot approval to pass; propositions need a simple majority. For a deeper dive into all of this, check out the state General Assembly’s Blue Book mailed to households and available online at

Happy voting, you well-informed electors, you.

Ballot issue: Amendment E

What it asks: Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning the extension of a property tax exemption for qualifying seniors and disabilities to the surviving spouse of a United States armed forces service member who died in the line of duty or veteran whose death resulted from a service-related injury or disease?

What it means: Colorado currently extends a property tax exemption to seniors older than 65 who have owned and lived in their home for at least 10 years and to members of the U.S. military with a service-connected disability rated 100% permanent and total by the federal government. A “yes” vote would extend the same exemption to a veteran’s surviving spouse if the vet is killed in action or dies from a service-related condition.

Pro: Advocates say the measure allows the state to do more to help Gold Star families whose spouses or parents have died in service to the nation and state. It could help ease the burden of the financial strain of losing a loved one.

Con: Opponents note that the proposal only applies to Gold Star spouses who can afford to own their homes, so those who rent or aren’t the owners of record on the property don’t qualify. They also argue that the current exemption is designed to help veterans whose federally designated disability prevents them from maintaining employment.

Financial impact: If approved, the measure is expected to increase state spending by $288,000 in budget year 2023-24.

Ballot issue: Proposition FF

What it asks: Shall state taxes be increased $100,727,820 annually by a change to the Colorado revised statutes that, to support health meals for public school students, increases state taxable income only for individuals who have federal taxable income of $300,000 or more by limiting itemized or standard state income tax deductions to $12,000 for single tax return filers and $16,000 for joint tax return filers, and, in connection therewith, creating the healthy school meals for all program to provide free school meals to students in public schools; providing grants for participating schools to purchase Colorado grown, raised or processed products, to increase wages or provide stipends for employees who prepare and serve school meals, and to create parent and student advisory committees to provide advice to ensure school meals are healthy and appealing to all students; and creating a program to assist in promoting Colorado food products and preparing school meals using basic nutritious ingredients with minimal reliance on processed products?

What it means: The nuts and the bolts of this long question ask whether Colorado should limit the amount of state and federal income tax deductions for households with an adjustable gross income of $300,000 or more. The expected $100 million in additional revenue would go to a program providing free meals for all public school students, grant support for schools that want to serve Colorado-produced products, provide stipends and salaries for food service staff, and consumer advisory committees to evaluate programs. It would also incentivize the use of natural, nutritious ingredients and reduce reliance on processing.

Pro: Advocates point to research that shows students experiencing hunger have lower grades than their well-fed peers and are more likely to struggle with behavioral, mental, physical and emotional health issues. They also point to increased costs of living and the stigma and shame of hunger that students who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch may face. Advocates say a “yes” vote would even the playing field.

Con: Opponents, meanwhile, point out that the measure is raising taxes on only select households when the high cost of inflation and living could reduce investing in the economy or shoring up savings. They also argue that the burden of feeding children shouldn’t fall on the government, but on the parents or caregivers, and the measure requires continued state investment of dollars, resources and oversight for a program that isn’t universally needed. Opponents say when schools are already underfunded, it would be better to give programmatic control to the local school districts, who can use the dollars to decide what best suits their students’ needs.

Financial impact: The proposed tax hike is expected to bring in an additional $50.4 million this budget year. That number is expected to grow to $100.7 million in 2023-24 and $104.2 million the year after. Likewise, state spending on the program is projected to rise by up to $115 million in 2023-24 and scale back to $101.4 million per year thereafter, once the new program is fully operational.

Ballot issue: Proposition 121

What it asks: Shall there be a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes reducing the state income tax rate from 4.55% to 4.40%?

What it means: This question is straightforward: Should the income tax rate be decreased by 0.15%?

Pro: Supporters say with the state’s high cost of living and inflationary rates, this is the perfect time to cut the tax rate and get money back into consumers’ pockets. They also point to the fact that the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) limits the amount of money the state can collect and that it currently takes in more than it spends. Reimbursing taxpayers at the end of the fiscal year, advocates say, is inefficient; they argue that it’s better for families and businesses when they keep more of their own money to begin with.

Con: Opponents argue that most of the benefit will go to the very wealthiest taxpayers and corporations. They say about 75% of taxpayers will receive a tax cut of less than $63 per year while millionaires are projected to save nearly $7,000 per year. Additionally, those opposed say, ongoing inflation, pandemic, and chaotic international rates have increased the risk of a recession. In that case, the measure could backfire by limiting the amount of funding the state has on hand to respond to critical services and economic challenges.

Financial impact: The bill is projected to reduce the state General Fund revenue by $638 million this budget year, which began July 1. Next year’s drop could potentially hit $413 million. Projections are based on a roughly 18-month cycle because they would be implemented after the completion of budget year 2021-22.

Ballot issue: Proposition 122

What it asks: Shall there be a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning legal regulated access to natural medicine for persons 21 years of age or older, and, in connection therewith, defining natural medicine as certain plants or fungi that affect a person’s mental health and are controlled substances under state law; establishing a natural medicine regulated access program for supervised care, and requiring the department of regulatory agencies to implement the program and comprehensively regulate natural medicine to protect public health and safety; creating an advisory board to advise the department as to the implementation of services; allowing limited personal possession, use, and uncompromising sharing of natural medicine; providing specified protections under state law, including criminal and civil immunity, for authorized providers and users of natural medicine; and, in limited circumstances, allowing the retroactive removal and reduction of criminal penalities related to the possession, use, and sale of natural medicine?

What it means: This measure asks whether the state should establish a regulated system for adults over 21 to legally buy psychedelic mushrooms and, if approved by the state regulatory agency, other plant-based psychedelics. This essentially decriminalizes the purchase and use of psychedelic mushrooms and plant-based substances.

Pro: Those in favor of the legalization of psychedelic mushrooms and plant-based products point to studies that show these products, combined with counseling, may provide effective treatment for severe depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. They think this could be a boon for Colorado’s already-stretched mental health safety net. Additionally, they argue that putting people into the criminal justice system for using naturally occurring substances doesn’t benefit society and actually costs taxpayers money.

Con: Those opposed point out that there are no approved therapies that use psychedelic mushrooms or other plant-based psychedelic substances and that the effects of said products vary based on the individual, frequency of consumption, dosage and type of substances. They also note that the bill would legalize substances that have been federally criminalized for more than 50 years and say the measure would foist on communities the obligation to allow the use of these substances and provide protection to criminals by forcing prior convictions to be wiped from their records.

Financial impact: With licenses and fees needed to cover the cost of the program when fully implemented, it is expected to generate about $5.2 million in budget year 2024-25, $5.6 million in 2025-26 and $4.5 million per year thereafter. On the other hand, startup regulatory impact is projected to hover around $3 million through budget year 2023-24 and then cost more than $5 million to manage thereafter.

Ballot issue: Proposition 123

What it asks: Shall there be a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning statewide funding for additional affordable housing, and, in connection therewith, dedicating state revenues collected from an existing tax of 1/10 of 1 percent on federal taxable income from every individual, estate, trust and corporation, as defined in law, for affordable housing and exempting the dedicated revenues from the constitutional limitation on state fiscal year spending; allocated 60% of the dedicated revenues to affordable housing financing programs that will reduce rents, purchase land for affordable housing development, and build assets for renters; allocating 40% of the dedicated revenues to programs that support affordable home ownership, serve persons experiencing homelessness, and support local planning capacity; requiring local governments that seek additional affordable housing funding to expedite development approvals for affordable housing projects and commit to increasing the number of affordable housing units by 3% annually; and specifying that the dedicated revenues shall not supplant existing appropriations for affordable housing programs?

What it means: In a nutshell, this question asks whether an existing 0.01 percent sales tax should be reallocated to support new affordable housing programs. It exempts the money from the state’s revenue cap.

Pro: It’s no secret that Colorado’s booming population has driven up housing costs and forced many residents to tighten their fiscal belts and make tough decisions. Supporters of the proposal say it creates a credible source of funds to tackle the housing issues without raising tax rates and gives local communities flexibility to respond to their constituents’ unique needs. Advocates also say the new programs would make it possible for residents who are struggling to pay rent to participate in the housing market now and in the future, growing communities and economies.

Con: Opponents of the measure worry that it doesn’t address the underlying causes of the state’s skyrocketing housing costs. Pumping money into the market, they say, could further distort it, with the real benefit going to landlords and developers rather than consumers. Those opposed also say it will reduce future TABOR refunds in a state that already provides resources — including more than $1 billion in federal stimulus funds over recent years — to support affordable housing initiatives.

Financial impact: Prop 123 would transfer an estimated $145 million in the 2022-23 budget year from the state General Fund to a designated program. It has no change to state revenues but would limit the amount returned to taxpayers in those years when revenues surpass the TABOR cap.

Regan Foster
Regan Foster is a former professor of journalism at Colorado State University Pueblo and faculty adviser to the student-run newspaper The Today; a founding member of the Pueblo Star Journal; an 18-year veteran of print and broadcast news; and a former member of the Southern Colorado Press Club board of directors.

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