Colorado Limitation on Public Payroll Deductions, Initiative 49 (2008)
The Colorado Limitation on Public Payroll Deductions Initiative, also known as Initiative 49, was on the November 2008 ballot in Colorado as an initiated constitutional amendment, where it was defeated. The measure would have prohibited public employers in Colorado—which would include state government agencies, city and county governments and public school districts—from using payroll deductions to benefit private organizations. The initiative language still would have allowed state and local governments to take regular payroll deductions for charitable contributions, so the measure would primarily affect labor unions.
|Colorado Initiative 49 (2008)|
Election results via: The Colorado Secretary of State
Text of measure
The language appeared on the ballot as:
|“||Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning deductions from governmental payroll systems, and, in connection therewith, prohibiting a governmental payroll system from taking a payroll deduction from any government employee except deductions required by federal law, tax withholdings, judicial liens and garnishments, deductions for individual or group health benefits or other insurance, deductions for pension or retirement plans or systems, or other savings or investment programs, and charitable deductions?||”|
This initiative was a response to a November 2007 executive order—Order D 028 07—of Colorado's Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter that authorized what were called "partnership agreements" allowing government organizations to partner with private interests. These partnership agreements allowed government agencies to process payroll deductions for private groups such as labor unions. Ritter's executive order overturned an executive order of his Republican predecessor, Bill Owens, who in 2001 signed a "paycheck protection" order prohibiting government agencies in Colorado from using payroll deductions for unions.
A United States Supreme Court 9-0 ruling in June 2007 said that states may create laws granting extra protections to public-sector workers who want to be asked first before the union can spend their money on political causes. The Supreme Court ruling upheld a 1992 law in Washington approved by 73% of voters that required unions to receive "affirmative authorization" from non-member agency fee payers before spending mandatory fees on politics.
This measure, formerly initiative 53, was officially certified for the ballot as Amendment 49 on July 24, 2008. The Secretary of State's office projected via random sampling that nearly 88% of the signatures submitted were valid.
A list of Amendment 49 supporters could be found at www.EthicalStandardsNow.org. Some endorsers included:
- Bill Owens
- Hank Brown
- the Rocky Mountain News
- Colorado Springs Gazette
- Pueblo Chieftain
- Colorado Health Care Association
- Colorado Home Builders Association
- American Builders and Contractors
- Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce
The sponsor of the measure was the Independence Institute. According to Jon Caldara, president of the institute, what was at issue with "Ask First" legislation was preventing unions from using the payroll system of municipal governments to "suck money out of people's paychecks and give them to the union. That is, if the unions want their members' money, they're gonna have to go to the member directly and ask them first. Or to put it another way, government payroll systems that you and I own should not be used as conduits or collection agencies for unions."
"It's our position that state and local governments have no business being the dues collector or banker for any special interests," said Caldara. "We don't see why governments should be collecting dues for unions that will turn around and spend that money to lobby the same government," arguing that the relationship should be broken on behalf of taxpayers.
Caldara said the institute had collected about a third of the signatures needed to put the initiative on the ballot as of mid-April.
The group leading the campaign was called Clean Government Colorado.
The Rocky Mountain News editorialized in September 2007 in favor of the "Ask First" concept, saying, "We hope the campaign continues to gain ground, because governments should not serve as collection agents for any dues-based organizations, not just unions."
Three Colorado cities had Ask First initiatives on their city-wide ballots on November 6, 2007. Voters in Centennial, Colorado, approved the legislation, while voters in Englewood and Greeley rejected it.
An editorial at DailyCamera.com endorsed the measure, arguing that allowing municipalities to collect union dues, which are used for lobbying, ends up allowing government officials to collect funds on their own behalf. The editorial added:
"Quite simply: Our municipalities needn't be collection agents for unions. The unions can bill their members—or set up a payment plan—on their own. We support our firefighters; we don't think a bill or payment plan, rather than a payroll deduction, will keep them from doing their jobs."
Arguments in favor
Notable arguments made in support included:
- Amendment 49, or “Ethical Standards,” will stop Colorado’s governments from being the bagman for political special interests. It will prohibit governments from bundling money from public employees’ paychecks and delivering the funds to special interests, like unions. These special interests use the money to lobby the same politicians who just delivered the cash to them.
- Quite simply, it is unethical for government to be the banker, accountant, and collection agent for political special interests. Government should be using our tax dollars, and our civil servants’ time, to provide crucial public services, not to funnel money to political organizations.
- Amendment 49 will reinstate an Executive Order by former Governor Bill Owens and expands this policy to all other governments. Governor Bill Ritter reversed the Owens policy quickly after becoming governor. Through another Executive Order, Ritter also has brought collective bargaining to state employees. Without Amendment 49, thousands more government employees will have their union dues collected, accounted and delivered at taxpayer expense.
- Ethical Standards isn’t just about public unions. All sorts of political groups use the people’s payroll systems to funnel their cash to their lobbyists and election campaigns.
- Ethical Standards isn’t new. A dozen counties, representing over half the state’s population, have already put this language on their books (including Jefferson, Arapahoe, Douglas, Weld, Larimer, El Paso and Mesa). Amendment 49 would follow their lead and clean up the patchwork of laws to provide consistently simple and ethical payroll standards for Colorado governments.
- In this era of online banking, automatic bank transfers and electronic credit card services, there is no reason why political contributions and organization dues should go through the people’s payroll system at taxpayer expense.
- “This common-sense idea simply tells government to get out of the business of raising money for political special interests…” - Lynda Ryan, Colorado Springs
- “Amendment 49 prohibits our government payroll systems from being used to collect funds for private organizations (including union dues)….there is no reason for the taxpayers of Colorado to foot the bill as a collection agency for private entities.” - Steve Collins, Breckenridge
- “The Ethical Standards initiative, Amendment 49, would prevent government payroll systems from collecting and bundling money to special interest groups that hire lobbyists and make campaign contributions….Government employees deserve the freedom to work without political pressure.”
Public employee unions saw this as the independence Institute's latest effort to undermine public-employee unions. The institute was also working on a ballot issue that would prohibit unions from making contributions to political candidates.
"There have been measures in other states to stop payroll collection and they've all been defeated," said Jeanne Beyer, communications director of the Colorado Education Association, which represents 38,500 Colorado teachers. "Our view is that once the employee has earned their salary, it's theirs to spend as they see fit and making a union contribution is their right. It costs little for school districts to collect our member dues automatically."
Beyer said numerous unions were participating in a "decline to sign" campaign to inform union members and the public about the petition drive. "If it makes the ballot, then you will see a bigger campaign by labor organizations to oppose it," she said.
Also opposing the measure was Protect Colorado's Future, a pro-labor group that was sponsoring several ballot measures of its own for the 2008 ballot. The group's web site called Amendment 49 an attempt "to take away Coloradans First Amendment rights and prevent Coloradans from making voluntary dues payments through their paychecks."
Jess Knox, campaign director for Protect Colorado's Futute, said he expected donations to continue to come in to oppose both Amendment 49 and Amendment 54. "We expect to raise $15 million to $20 million to defeat these," he said.
Business leaders join unions
Just hours before the Oct. 2, 2008, deadline for withdrawing measures from the November ballot, labor unions leaders announced that they would be pulling four controversial measures from the ballot in exchange for business leaders signing on as active opponents of Amendment 47, including $3 million to help fund the opposition campaign.
Attempts to strike a deal, led by Gov. Ritter, began early in the campaign but fizzled when Amendment 47 proponents refused to end their campaign and filed signatures to place it on the ballot. However, in mid-September, union and business leaders showed renewed interest in negotiating a deal to avoid the clash at the ballot-box.
Colorado Concern, a new alliance, was a key player in the talks about the terms under which labor groups would pull their four measures if business leaders help them fight the Amendment 47 and two other measures they saw as anti-union. Present at the negotiations for Colorado Concern were Walter Isenberg of Sage Hospitality Resources, Denver Performing Arts Center Chairman Dan Ritchie, and Oakwood Homes' Patrick Hamill.
Talks broke off without a deal on Sept. 16, 2008, at the governor's mansion. But they resumed later in the week.
Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce President Joe Blake attended the two meetings in mid-September and sits on the Colorado Concern board. But he said then that the Chamber will not spend any of its own resources to fight the three measures opposed by organized labor.
In an address Sept. 17, 2008, at the chamber's annual membership lunch, Blake steered clear of talk about a compromise, instead calling on the audience to defeat the four proposals sought by unions. Blake later expressed pessimism that a compromise could be reached that would lead to the withdrawal of the measures.
A source from Colorado Concern said Sept. 24, 2008, that they had pledges of $2 million from business interests toward the $6 million the union leaders said was necessary to convince them to withdraw the four anti-business ballot measures. That money would be used in the campaign to defeat Amendment 47 and two other measures the unions see as anti-union. Amendment 47 supporters said they have no intention of dropping their proposal.
Denver Metro Chamber President Joe Blake was asking companies that contributed to the chamber's issue committee, which was formed to oppose the labor-backed measures, not Amendment 47, to shift their money to fight the pro-business measures.
Tim Jackson, president of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association and executive vice president of the Metro Denver Automobile Dealers Association, told Blake his members would not finance the fight against Amendment 47. "Although it's not finalized yet, my belief is that we would not allow our money to be forwarded to a campaign that would be opposed to what we would call the pro-business ballot measures," Jackson said.
The metro Denver auto group had given $500,000 to the chamber's issue committee, while the state auto group had contributed $100,000 to the Amendment 47 right-to-work campaign.
Coloradans for Responsible Reform said Sept. 26, 2008, that it would proceed with TV commercials opposing the union-backed measures (Amendments 53, 55, 56, and 57), since a deal for their withdrawal was not yet at hand. The campaign suspended the ads two weeks previous while business and union leaders worked on a deal.
Todd Vitale, manager for Coloradans for Responsible Reform, said fundraising efforts slowed down during the negotiations.
"Our research indicates that once voters learn about the real impact of these measures, they will vote them down," Vitale said.
Vitale said his campaign had raised $1.6 million, compared to more than $6 million raised by organized labor to fight Amendment 47 and support the measures they are sponsoring.
On Sept. 30, 2008, Walter Isenberg, chairman of Colorado Concern, announced that a deal between labor and a coalition of business leaders to pull four union-backed initiatives had fallen through.
"A lot of progress was made over the last few weeks," Isenberg said in a released statement. "Unfortunately, we were unable to come up with a proposal to which union leaders would agree, and we have simply run out of time."
The statement said there would be "no deal" with labor leaders, and business leaders would instead focus their financial resources on fighting the four union-backed ballot measures.
But Jess Knox, a spokesman for Protect Colorado's Future, said that there was "still time on the clock" and that a deal could still be worked out, noting that they "still have two days to pull this off."
The group of business leaders reportedly had raised $3 million to oppose Amendment 47, short of the $5 million union officials reportedly wanted businesses to raise to fight Amendment 47. But Knox insisted the effort was not "just about money."
"This is about running a joint campaign, and there are some complex details," Knox said.
The deal was finally worked out during late-night meetings and announced Oct. 2, 2008, the deadline for removing measures from the ballot. Because the ballots were already being printed, the measures still appeared there, but no votes for the measures were to be counted.
After business leaders pledged to raise $3 million for the campaigns against Amendments 49, 47, and 54, campaign finance records show donations were received from the Colorado Bankers Association ($215,000), Western Plains Capital ($200,000), ProLogis ($100,000), Vail Resorts ($100,000), 4334 LLC ($100,000), Xcel Energy ($75,000), and Wal-Mart ($50,000).
Those donations were made to Colorado Businesses for Sensible Solutions, an issue committee formed to fight Amendments 49, 47, and 54. The contributions are still nearly $2 million short of the amount pledged by Oct. 10th, but Walter Isenberg, the lead fundraiser, said businesses would "continue to fundraise until we have met our commitment."
Jon Caldara, president of the Independent Institute, said Sept. 22, 2008, that he would withdraw Amendment 49 if Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter rescinds last year's executive order allowing unions to represent state workers in contract negotiations.
Evan Dreyer, a spokesman for the Governor, said Caldara's offer "felt more like a publicity stunt than a genuine offer."
But Caldara responded that there was one way for Gov. Ritter to discover the authenticity of his offer, "and that's for the governor to take me up on the offer," he said.
Union reprimanded for email use
The Jefferson County School District issued a reminder to all employees that they cannot use the school district's email system to advocate a position on a campaign issue after a teachers union improperly sent an email through the system urging a "no" vote on three ballot measures, including Amendment 49.
The school district's email warned, "Employees wishing to participate in a campaign activity should take personal leave and use personal email accounts."
"I am glad to see that Jefferson County put a stop to this very quickly," said Jon Caldara, chief backer of Amendment 49.
The inappropriate email was sent Oct. 8, 2008, by Kerrie Dallman, president of the Jefferson County Education Association. She used the union's email account to contact association representatives, but said in the email that "This email is ok to forward to your members at school."
Dexter Meyer, communications director for the Jefferson County Education Association, said he normally reviews emails to make sure they comply with district policy but in this case he did not.
Channel 4 News in Denver, the local CBS affiliate, was again charging Protect Colorado's Future with misleading the voters in a new political commercial it began running in opposition to Amendments 49 and 54. The station's "Reality Check" feature said the ads accusing the amendments of giving special breaks to multinational corporations were misleading, concluding that:
"The unions have correctly identified 47,49 and 54 as amendments hostile to their interests. Having said that, 47 and 54 have no loopholes for multinational corporations. Amendment 49 does contain a narrow loophole for health care and pension deductions. None of these measures contain exemptions that would include Halliburton."
Three Denver news stations also reviewed an earlier television ad from Protect Colorado's Future that attacked the backers of Amendment 49, as well as Amendment 47 and Initiative 59, for hiring criminals to circulate petitions for the measures with varying results.
Channel 4 News in Denver, the local CBS affiliate, found in its "Reality Check" feature that some of the ad's claims were misleading but noted it made an "interesting underlying point that may be more important than the ad itself." CBS 4 determined that though the ad had lots of spin, Protect Colorado's Future made "an excellent point" about the need for background checks.
Channel 7 News in Denver, the local ABC affiliate, also did an analysis as part of the station's "Vote 08: Facts Or Fiction" feature, which determined that some of the ad's statements are misleading. According to the station's web site, the ad takes on the three amendments without ever explaining what the ballot measures do—instead attacking the actions of the people supporting the ballot measures.
The investigation further charged that the ad claims proponents of the measures were fraudulent and deceptive, citing several newspapers, implying that the publications determined the amendments to be deceptive and fraudulent. But the articles merely quoted people affiliated with Protect Colorado's Future claiming that the amendment's efforts were fraudulent and deceptive.
"It's fiction to imply the newspapers found any deception," the investigation concluded.
Similar conclusions were drawn by Denver's KUSA-TV News, the NBC affiliate, following its own analysis.
The local Denver media and backers of Amendment 49 have also been accused of spreading false information on the measure. In January, Colorado Media Matters, a non-profit, reported that Independence Institute staffers including Jon Caldara have repeatedly promoted the measure without disclosing their connection to it and repeated falsehoods about Governor Bill Ritter's and Governor Bill Owens' executive orders relating to unions.
Lawsuit charges fraud
A lawyer for Protect Colorado's Future filed the complaints July 8, 2008, with Secretary of State Mike Coffman's office alleging that proponents of this measure and Initiative 59 are fraudulently collecting signatures.
The complaints charged that petition circulators told people that they did not have to be registered voters to sign the petitions and that they could sign for someone else. A circulator also stated, according to the complaint, that she was adding signatures to a petition after it had already been notarized.
Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, which was backing both measures, called the complaints "false claims" intended to tie up the initiatives and keep them off the ballot. He said petition circulators were given specific instructions on how to lawfully collect signatures.
The measure was officially certified for the ballot as Amendment 49 on July 24, 2008. The Secretary of State's office projected via random sampling that nearly 88% of the signatures submitted were valid.
Supporters of the initiative filed more than 120,000 signatures with the Secretary of State on July 9, 2008. Only 76,047 valid signatures were required for the measure to appear on the November 2008 ballot.
- Colorado 2008 ballot measures
- 2008 ballot measures
- List of Colorado ballot measures
- History of Initiative & Referendum in Colorado
- Full text of measure
- 2008 State Ballot Information Booklet, English version (Blue Book)
- 2008 State Ballot Information Booklet, Spanish version (Blue Book)
- Clean Government Colorado web iste
- Protect Colorado's Future web site
- Independence Institute
- Ask First Colorado
- Ethical Standards Now
- National Journal: "Wild Cards In The Deck," July 28, 2008
- Colorado State Legislative Council, "Ballot History," accessed February 26, 2014
- Rocky Mountain News: "Plan would bar dues from state payroll," Nov. 29, 2007
- Ritter Press Release announcing Order D 028 07
- Text of D 028 07
- Think Tank Lauds Major Decision for Free Speech: Institute Celebrates U.S. Supreme Court Victory in Davenport v WEA
- Denver Post: "Union-dues proposal lands on ballot," July 25, 2008
- On election eve, Caldara touted ballot issues on KOA without disclosing his organization is sponsoring them
- Pueblo Chieftain: "Think tank against union payroll dues," April 21, 2008
- Rocky Mountain News: "New Tactic on Dues," Sept. 2007
- Denver Post: Nov. 6, 2007 election results
- Protect Colorado's Future web site
- Rocky Mountain News: "Local union gives $3 million to fight right-to-work measure," Sept. 15, 2008
- Denver Channel 7 News: "Labor Unions To Pull Ballot Measures," Oct. 2, 2008
- Rocky Mountain News: "Talks to resume to avert labor ballot battle," Sept. 18, 2008
- Denver Post: "Money tight as business pursues labor ballot deal," Sept. 25, 2008
- Rocky Mountain News: Opinion: "FOX: Labor-issues impasse at the precipice," Sept. 26, 2008
- Denver Business Journal: "Ballot issues' TV ads back on," Sept. 26, 2008
- Denver Business Journal: "Business-union pact: A dead deal?," Sept. 30, 2008
- Denver Post: "Ballot talks have evolved," Sept. 23, 2008
- Denver Post: "Businesses raise $1.1 million to fight anti-union measures," Oct. 13, 2008
- Denver Business Journal: "Caldara: Would pull Amendment 49 if Ritter reverses executive order," Sept. 22, 2008
- Rocky Mountain News: "Union admonished about email," Oct. 11, 2008
- Rocky Mountain News: "Teacher union rapped for Jeffco school email use," Oct. 10, 2008
- Rocky Mountain News: "REALITY CHECK: Amendments 49, 54 don't address multinational firms," Oct. 1, 2008
- Channel 4: "Mudslinger Ad Makes Issue of Background Checks," July 20, 2008.
- Denver Channel 7 News: "Commercial Attacking Three Amendments Is Misleading," July 22, 2008.
- KUSA-TV News: "Truth Test: Ad targets backers of anti-union measures," July 17, 2008.
- Colorado Media Matters: "'Union paradise': with organized labor issues moving to forefront, here's a look at misinformation in the media," Jan. 1, 2008.
- Denver Post: "Unions allege fraud by signature gatherers," July 8, 2008
- Colorado Springs Gazette: "Colorado union fight ramps up with the delivery of petition signatures," July 10, 2008
- Education News Colorado: "Petitions filed for dues-checkoff ban," July 9, 2008
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