When it comes to Amendment 74 on the ballot for the Nov. 6 general election, misinformation is swirling. The innocent-sounding amendment reads: “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado Constitution requiring the government to award just compensation to owners of private property when a government law or regulation reduces the fair market value of the property?”
Hundreds of organizations and municipalities who normally don’t agree on anything – business, labor unions, the Colorado Municipal League, ranchers, environmentalists, police and firefighters – have come out against it. So has nearly every news media in the state of Colorado. Both Chaffee County Commissioners and Buena Vista Trustees adopted formal resolutions rejecting Amendment 74 as wrong for the county and its residents.
The reality, say those who have carefully studied the question, is that the Colorado Constitution and Colorado statutes already contain existing fair market value protections for property owners when acquiring land for public use. Those uses can range from things such as highway construction and building government buildings such as fire stations or police stations to creating parks, auditoriums, sports stadiums and bike trails to advancing multi-modal forms of transportation requiring bus terminals or pull-outs.
As it stands now, there are three ways for a state or local government to acquire or compensate private property owners. They include “eminent domain,” “by accidental or intentional damage” or as “regulatory taking” when a newly enacted law or regulation deprives a property owner of the use or value of a property, even though ownership is retained.
Proponents of the measure say it ensures that owners of property, often the most significant asset a private citizen owns, are fairly compensated when government has any impact on their property, regardless of what that impact is.
Critics say Amendment 74 wording is deceptive, not just because it masks the fact that protections already exist, but because it is too broad and badly formed. They say the wording has potential for far-reaching consequences because it leaves taxpayers liable for payments to property owners for any loss of property value resulting from any change in laws or regulations, regardless of whether it retains profitable use.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, in a visit to Salida in mid-October, called it “one of two wolves in sheep’s clothing on the ballot.” He explained that it could cost municipal, county and state government billions and stop infrastructure and transportation projects statewide, just as a similar ballot question did in the state of Oregon. “Every project would end up in court.”