Amendment 61

Limit Colorado Debt

Full text of the Colorado Amendment 61 (Limit Colorado Debt):

Be it Enacted by the People of the State of Colorado:

Section 1.

Article XI, section 3 is repealed and re-enacted to read, as stated in the original constitution: “The state shall not contract any debt by loan in any form.”

Sections 4, 5, 6(2), and 6(3) are repealed as obsolete and superseded.

Section 6 (1) is repealed and re-enacted as section 6 to read: “Without voter approval, no political subdivision of the state shall contract any debt by loan in any form. The loan shall not be repealed until such indebtedness is fully paid or discharged. The ballot title shall specify the use of the funds, which shall not be changed.”

Section 2. Article X, section 20 is amended to add:

(4)(c) After 2010, the following limits on borrowing shall exist:

(i) The state and all its enterprises, authorities, and other state political entities shall not borrow, directly or indirectly, money or other items of value for any reason or period of time. This ban covers any loan, whether or not it lasts more than one year; may default; is subject to annual appropriation or discretion; is called a certificate of participation, lease-purchase, lease-back, emergency, contingency, property lien, special fund, dedicated revenue bond, or any other name; or offers any other excuse, exception, or form.

(ii) Local districts, enterprises, authorities, and other political entities may borrow money or other items of value only after November voter approval. Loan coverage in (i) applies to loans in (ii). Future borrowing may be prepaid without penalty and shall be bonded debt repaid within ten years. A non-enterprise shall not borrow if the total principal of its direct and indirect current and proposed borrowing would exceed ten percent of assessed taxable value of real property in its jurisdiction.

(iii) No borrowing may continue past its original term. All current borrowing shall be paid. Except enterprise borrowing, after each borrowing is fully repaid, current tax rates shall decline as voter-approved revenue changes equal to its planned average annual repayment, even if not repaid by taxes. Such declines do not replace others required. Future borrowing is void if it violates this paragraph (c), which shall be strictly enforced. Conflicting laws, rulings, and practices are repealed, overturned, and superseded.

Explanation (from

Hello, debtor!

You may not think of yourself that way. You may think “My credit cards are current, I have no mortgage, and I don’t owe any money.” But politicians have put you and your family in debt, big time! That is the problem Amendment 61 will fix.

Here is a line-by-line analysis of this short (309 words) and simple petition. The full text of Amendment 61 can be read at It is in two sections.

Section 1.
Section 1 amends Article XI, titled “Public Indebtedness.” Public—that’s you. Indebtedness—that’s what politicians borrow in your name, usually without your permission, that must be repaid by you, usually with interest.

The first change is to limit Article XI, section 3 to its first 12 words–”The state shall not contract any debt by loan in any form.” That’s pretty simple. The rest of that original 1876 section has outdated, vague exceptions, like “except to provide for casual deficiencies of revenue…” What does that mean? Does that differ from a “formal” deficiency of revenue? It also excepts state borrowing to give money to the U.S. government. Back in 1876, when the federal government was very small, that may have been valid, but not now. A third exception, debt money to “suppress insurrection,” was written 11 years after the Civil War—not too likely now.

The second reason the exceptions are out of date is that they allow the state to impose only a property tax. The state had no income tax or retail sales tax in 1876.It has not collected property tax since 1964. A state real property tax is prohibitedby the 1992 TABOR Amendment. Further, how can money for emergencies come from a property tax assessed in one year and collected in the next? No “crisis” can wait a year for cash. TABOR bans emergency property taxes for just that reason.

The third reason is the 1876 limits on most state borrowing are $50,000 or $100,000. In today’s dollars, that would not build a new rest room in a state park!

Because state debt is prohibited, sections 4 and 5 are not needed. They merely list details on debt allowed under those vague exceptions, which will be repealed.

Sections 6 (2) and 6 (3) will also be repealed as obsolete. They allow local debt without the voter approval now required by TABOR. Strict limits on local debt areprovided in this petition, not left to changing state political whims, as 6 (2) allows.

Section 6 (1) is rewritten as section 6 to be shorter and clearer. It removes any conflict with the voter approval required in TABOR. It also repeals a rule the U.S. Supreme Court held unconstitutional in 1969—that only local property taxpayers can vote on property taxes. It prohibits government repudiation of its debts, and says the ballot title shall state the use of the debt proceeds, which cannot be later switched elsewhere by tricky politicians.

Amendment 61 restates the original intent and repeals out-of-date exceptions–664 obsolete words of excess legalese. See the menu’s Research link for that musty verbosity. Read it aloud. The first sentence shortened, section 3, has 198 ramblingwords (!) It is trimmed to its first 12. Brevity is good.

Section 2.
Section 2 adds one paragraph to TABOR. Its three subparagraphs limit all state and local government borrowing.

Subparagraph (i) implements a ban on state borrowing in any form. State and local governments now call debts by other names. Judges say it’s OK. Well, it’s notOK. The 1876 ban was on debt “in any form.” This new ban is on any state entity (not local political subdivisions, covered in (ii)) getting any type of loan at all. Government, state enterprises (businesses), state authorities, and anything else related to the state—all are covered by this total ban, regardless of names of a loan, lease, or state entity, or misuse of a third party to borrow indirectly. It is not just “money” the state can’t borrow; “items of value” (equipment, land, vehicles, funds, bonds, stocks, buildings, etc.) are included. The ban is on state liability to repay or return, or to pay installments. It includes using government credit or interest breaks to borrow indirectly for others as a conduit, even if government doesn’t have to repay the money. It may buy in one payment, but not borrow, even from itself—no borrowing a) for state “emergencies,” b) for cash flow in a fiscal year, c) for “balancing” budgets with next year’s revenue, d) from trust funds, or e) from cash funds for the general fund. No borrowing, period! Not one day! No loopholes!

Subparagraph (ii) covers all local, regional, and non-state political entities and related businesses. The ban on other forms of state borrowing listed in the prior subparagraph applies to cover local borrowing. Locals may borrow only after voter approval in a November election. Borrowing is by bonded debt only, so TABOR notices and ballot wording apply. Third-party loans are banned, as local bonds must be repaid. Such future debt (made after 2010) may be paid off at any time without penalty, and must be fully repaid within 10 years of voter approval, whichwill save taxpayers millions in interest payments. If the borrower is not an“enterprise” (government-owned business), there is a limit on the total amount it can borrow, directly and indirectly, including what has already been borrowed. Indirect borrowing covers loans to an “authority,” development or improvement district, or other entity created, controlled, or influenced by a second entity (like a city or county); their borrowing would also be part of the indirect limit of the parent entity. The total limit is 10% of the assessed taxable value of real property in that jurisdiction. So add up the taxable assessments (done by the county or the state) of all real (not personal) property that is taxable (excludes untaxed government property, churches, etc.); the principal of existing plus proposed borrowing can not exceed 10% of that total sum. Taxable value of residential property today is 7.96% of market (actual) value; for most non-residential property, it is 29% of that actual value. A house with an actual value of $100,000 has an assessed taxable value of $7,960; a $200,000 office building has an assessed taxable value of $58,000. This stricter limit is intended to cap total local borrowing at a much lower sum.

Subparagraph (iii) prevents borrowing from going beyond its payoff date; that would be a new borrowing after 2010. Any borrowing before 2011 must be paid, whether legal or not. All non-enterprise borrowing, past and future, will, when fully repaid after 2010, lower tax rates in future years. A decline is equal to the agreed-on average annual repayment amount (principal, interest, and fees). This occurs even if paid off early or by non-tax repayment sources. So any borrowing will result in a tax cut. They won’t need that revenue any more once the borrowing has been paid.Voters here approve that revenue change to lower limits on fiscal year spending and, if it applies, property tax revenue. It will discourage borrowing, correct past abuses of debt “loopholes,” prevent replacement of the reduced revenue with new fees, and increase refunds of excess revenue. If revenue would be reduced for other reasons, this tax cut adds to that; it does not replace it. Even if authorized before 2011, future issuance of actual borrowing is invalid (illegal) if this new paragraph (c) is violated.The standard for applying this reform is strict interpretation and enforcement; mere “substantial (partial) compliance” is not enough. Liberal judges often misuse that term to excuse government illegality. As #61 demands strict enforcement, citizens need not prove personal damage to enforce this constitutional mandate, nor post bonds. They are encouraged to monitor legal compliance and awarded full attorney fees and costs if they win any part of their claim. Amendment 61 does not alter current limits and practices that allow borrowing only for capital construction outliving the payback, not operating costs or payroll. All state statutes, local laws, opinions, resolutions, constitutional provisions, and anything else in Colorado law and practice shall yield to enforce this paragraph (c). In all legal conflicts, (c)prevails to honor and obey the will of the people expressed in this citizen petition.

Visit Then vote YES on Amendment 61.

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