- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Aurora Sentinel, Oct. 13, on changing Colorado’s minimum wage:

There’s one thing that’s become crystal clear in Colorado over the past several years: When it comes to economic forces, this is anything but a one-size-fits-all state.

The average metro-area apartment rent has hit a staggering $1,500 a month, according to analysts. Meanwhile, Pueblo residents can pretty much snag a 3-bedroom house for less than half of that kind of rent.

Disparities like that are common in a state that’s home to tony ski resorts, bustling urban meccas and small towns on the plains on the verge of collapse.

Given the vast differences in job markets, per-capita spending and cost of living - sometimes only tens of miles apart - it makes no sense to create a single minimum wage law that leaves no room for adjustment.

To be clear, we’re staunch supporters of minimum wage laws, just not this one.

We firmly believe that too many businesses, especially small businesses, balance their dubious entrepreneurial acumen - or simply economic hard times - on the backs of their employees. It doesn’t matter where you live, human time and labor has a bottom-line value, and that value is easily abused by employers. When the price of electricity goes up, no business calls the power company to inform them that, “Hey, times are tough right now. Sales are down, so I can’t pay the increase you’re asking for. Take it or leave it.”

They turn out your lights. If a doughnut maker is hit with a tripled price hike in fryer oil, the owner must eat all or part of the increase or pass it on to customers.

But too many business owners don’t see human toil the same way. It often works to their advantage because there are generally more people who want work than those offering it.

That’s why minimum wage laws are critical. The law must protect workers from businesses that would exploit market economics to their benefit. In many small towns, it’s akin to indentured servitude.

Many business owners who fight against raises in the minimum wage say they just can’t afford to pay it. If your shop or service depends on virtually stealing wages from your employees, you have a problem, not a business.

Many argue that minimum wage jobs are for entry level workers - teens. That doesn’t explain why there are so many adults trapped in these low-wage, full-time jobs, that don’t hire kids.

All labor must have minimum value. But that value is vastly different across the state, relative to the cost of living. Colorado’s current minimum wage of $8.31 would have provided a lavish life in the early 1960s. Now? A kid scooping ice cream 10 hours a week at minimum wage can barely get a tank of gas and a burger out of the deal.

Amendment 70 doesn’t take the hugely different economic conditions of the state into account, and instead, it creates an average value for labor that in our opinion may be too high in some areas and far too low in others. Good luck trying to hire someone in Denver for the current minimum wage. Amendment 70 asks to raise that wage statewide to $9.30 beginning in January, and the rate would rise 90 cents a year until 2020, capping out at $12 an hour.

The cost of living in Denver may be critically higher than what it is now in four years, and this constitutional amendment would preclude lawmakers from doing anything about it. And that $12 an hour imposed on places such as Karval, Trinidad and Limon may make many businesses untenable, not because they’re poorly managed, but because the region is too sparsely populated or economically starved to allow it.

Instead, either an initiative or referendum should allow cities and counties to set their own minimum wages, even if they have to be sanctioned by the state. Or, the state could raise minimum wages according to zones based on economic criteria.

As vital as minimum wage laws are, they must work for employees and employers by being based on reliable local market forces. Amendment 70 doesn’t do that. Vote no and lobby your lawmaker to create a workable, scalable plan for the state.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2ery4Rg

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The Denver Post, Oct. 18, on allowing pot use in public spaces in Denver:

In so many ways, Colorado’s experiment with legal cannabis sales has debunked reefer-madness fears of the decades-long U.S. war on drugs. State and local regulations and the industry’s understandable desire to prove it can peacefully coexist here have, on the whole, shown that allowing marijuana for sale hardly leads to widespread ruination.

But the fruits of legalization have brought big change. And we sympathize with criticisms from those alarmed by the prevalence of pot shops and smelly warehouses - and from illegal toking and vaping in the streets and alleys and parks.

And what about gripes from tourists who wish to try some legal Colorado weed, or taxpaying residents unable to use it at home because of pressures from family, condo associations, housing authorities and apartment rules? What about folks who want to enjoy getting high in the same way many imbibe alcohol together? Where are they supposed to go?

Thankfully, a four-year pilot program that would allow restricted use of pot in permitted Denver businesses might yield some relief for the problem of public use, and we ask that voters approve Initiative 300.

Should it work, Colorado’s capital city would provide a welcome solution for users to enjoy cannabis together, without harming the public. Should it run into problems, its language and intent allow for corrections along the way and also an exit back to the drawing board.

We say drawing board because the crux of our support for 300 rests on the obvious fact the city will have to soon figure out this problem. How does it make sense to have an industry this developed without a social-use component factored in?

The pilot program would require businesses that wish to allow bring-your-own cannabis to gain significant community buy-in. Business owners would have to negotiate with either a neighborhood organization or business improvement district - many of which have overlapping interests and board members - to set restrictions governing how and where and what times of the day pot could be used.

Such a permit system goes beyond normal city regulations for businesses, and suggests the kind of willingness to compromise and work together that seems reasonable for such a roll-out.

Smoking of the drug would have to comply with the state Clean Indoor Air Act. Any use would be limited to adults 21 and older. Businesses would have to be 1,000 feet from schools. The City Council could scrap it after four years if the experiment seems unworkable, or after six months if it seems a bust.

Opponents question whether Initiative 300’s provisions avoid the public-use prohibition. They also argue that allowing business districts to approve the permits instead of simply neighborhood groups will lead to trouble. But it’s hard to see how a special-use permit that designates a nonpublic area violates the public-use rule. And, as noted earlier, most business districts have close connection to neighborhood groups - or should.

Lawmakers at the local and state level have been slow to take up this issue.

Given that we’re this far into an experiment that generates more than $1 billion in sales each year, it seems reasonable to try this pilot program. We ask Denver voters to approve Initiative 300.

Editorial: http://dpo.st/2ehsvY0

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The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, Oct. 16, on creating a new health care system in Colorado:

If we’re ever going to make the leap to a national single-payer health care system that provides universal, affordable coverage, one of the 50 states is probably going to have to step up and prove the idea is feasible.

Let it be anywhere but here. Amendment 69 gives Colorado voters an opportunity to become guinea pigs in an experiment that eliminates the insurance bureaucracy in exchange for higher taxes and a theoretical - not promised - reduction in health care costs.

Everyone would be covered - certainly a good thing - but beyond that there are no guarantees that the system wouldn’t weigh like a giant anchor on the state’s economy.

If passed, the amendment would create a universal health care system known as ColoradoCare. It would be funded mostly through payroll taxes on companies and workers which would generate $25 billion to cover all residents.

The system would nullify the need for private insurance. People could choose to keep their private insurance, but they would still pay the taxes.

The state would collect a 10 percent payroll tax, breaking down to 3.3 percent for workers and 6.67 percent for employers.

What do we get for agreeing to this tax? More comprehensive benefits than the best plan on the state’s health care exchange, no deductibles and no co-pays for prevention and primary care. Some co-pays could be waived for financial hardship.

Proponents argue that by eliminating billions in insurance administrative costs and profits, the system can put more money into services and reduce access problems. The system would use its immense buying power to control per-capita costs, slowing the rate of increases in overall health care costs.

But that’s no sure bet. First of all, there’s a ramp-up period in which taxpayers would pay $2 billion a year into the system without receiving any direct benefits. Once it starts providing coverage, how viable will the system be? The Colorado Health Institute, a nonpartisan health policy research center, conducted an independent analysis and concluded that ColoradoCare could break even in its first year, but would slide into ever-increasing deficits in future years unless taxes were increased.

ColoradoCare says that analysis is flawed because it failed to account for more than $2.3 billion in revenues from the federal government to match state funding for Medicaid expansion and CHP+. There are safeguards built into the amendment to protect the system from budget deficits that would result without federal funding.

Who’s right? ColoradoCare is an amendment to the state Constitution. If it doesn’t work, the Legislature can’t step in with a statutory fix.

In fact, the Legislature would have nothing to do with the system. ColoradoCare would be governed by an independently elected board of 21 members. They would oversee a budget ($25 billion) that rivals the state’s ($27 billion) without the kind of checks and balances, including recall power, that the Legislature is subject to.

Opponents, primarily business interests and the insurance lobby, say ColoradoCare would make Colorado the highest tax bracket in the country, making the state unattractive to business. It would be especially burdensome to small business owners. Sole proprietor-structured businesses, for example, would be required to pay the full 10 percent tax.

Even those enrolled in other government health care programs would pay. The military would be in TriCare and seniors would be in Medicare, but all would be paying 10 percent of their pensions (exempting the first $24,000) into the system.

There are plenty of other of troubling aspects of the measure. How many sick people would move to Colorado just to take advantage of the coverage? How many doctors would leave if they didn’t feel the compensation rates are competitive?

Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet are among prominent Democrats who have come out against the measure. Covering all Coloradans is an ideal goal. We could go so far as to say it’s the right thing to do, provided it doesn’t wreck the economy in the process. Amendment 69 is too risky. We urge our readers to vote no.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2e6WYLC

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The Durango Herald, Oct. 13, on whether doctors should be able to prescribe life-ending drugs:

Legislators have in two sessions debated giving Coloradans the right to control their end of life, and failed to do so. A “Yes” vote on Proposition 106 will do what the Legislature could not.

Proposition 106 is known as “medical aid-in-dying,” and will make it possible for mentally capable individuals who have less than six months to live to self-administer a life-ending drug. Two physicians, one of them the attending physician, will have had to affirm the individual’s remaining length of life, and that the individual is mentally capable.

The law, a statute rather than an addition to Colorado’s Constitution, is modeled after laws in five other states. Oregon, where the option has been in place for 19 years, is best known.

The protections are many. The individual must be at least 18, and the prognosis must be for six or fewer months to live. The individual will have to make two oral requests for the prescription at least 15 days apart, and a written request. The written request must be witnessed by two people who will have to confirm that the individual is not being coerced, and that he is mentally capable. Only one of the witnesses can be someone who will inherit, or an employee of the health care facility.

The prescription must be self-administered, which requires a level of individual control and which excuses any other person from direct involvement.

Other protections go further. Life insurance companies cannot refuse to pay a death benefit because of the application of medical aid-in-dying, nor can those associated be charged with a crime. Cost to the state government? At most $45,000 for the required annual statistical report about the effect of the statute. No individuals, who are required in the statute to be kept private, will be identified - just the statistics.

Medical aid-in-dying will give individuals control over the final months of their lives, a time when their conditions may no longer be what they define as life. Even with heavy doses of painkillers, an individual may not want to continue to a close-approaching end. Proposition 106 will provide that assurance.

What is known, too, is that some people who receive the approval to self-administer the prescription will not use it. What has occurred in Oregon, for example, shows that. Just having the ability to control the end of life might be sufficient for many.

Given all that has gone into shaping legislation in the five other states, and the detailed and emotional legislative debates in Colorado, Proposition 106 is well-crafted. It contains a multitude of provisions to answer many what-ifs that have arisen elsewhere or could arise in Colorado.

For some voluntary control over the end of life, vote “Yes” for Proposition 106.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2eQAInS

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