- By Josh Altic
A Boulder County District Court ruling against Longmont Question 300 - a local fracking ban - triggered an appeal to a higher court. The appeals process will ultimately result in a judicial decision that could have a statewide impact on local control over the contentious issue of fracking. The proponents of multiple local fracking bans will be watching closely as the courts decide whether to disenfranchise local voters or allow them authority over the issue.
In 2012, Longmont voters approved a citizen-initiated charter amendment to ban hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a contentious method of extracting oil and gas. The measure was approved by nearly 60 percent of voters. Two lawsuits were filed against Longmont over this ban. The most recent lawsuit features the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) and the state's Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission as plaintiffs. According to a Colorado Open Records Act request, both lawsuits together had already cost the city of Longmont almost $69,000 in legal fees as of March 31, 2013. On July 24, 2014, Boulder County District Court Judge Dolores Mallard overruled the ban, saying that the city of Longmont "does not have the authority to prohibit what the state authorizes and permits." Mallard cited Voss v. Lundvall, a 1992 court ruling that gave states, rather than cities, control over oil and gas extraction regulations and prohibitions. Question 300, however, remains in effect, since the decision was immediately put on hold due to an appeal by Question 300 supporters. Anti-fracking lawyers and activists have pledged to take the appeal all the way to the Supreme Court if that is what it takes. Although Mallard's ruling will be counterfeited by a ruling from a higher court, it sets in motion a process likely to result in a judicial precedent that could apply to all of the many local ballot measures that seek to ban fracking in Colorado.
- See also: School bond and tax elections in Colorado
Colorado has two different types of ballot measures that are required under two different laws. The first is the Taxpayer Bill of Rights from 1992, which became Section 20 of Article 10 of the Colorado Constitution. Under TABOR, local voter approval is required if the school district wants to exceed its tax levy above the normal rate of inflation set by the consumer price index. The second law is the School Finance Act of 1994. Under the act, voter approval is required when a school district wants to exceed the limit for raising its Total Program Budget. The Total Program Budget is a combined budget that includes the district's general fund, special education and other costs. A school district that wants to exceed the previous year's Total Program Budget by more than 125% must put a plan before the voters. This type of ballot measure has rarely been used; it is considered to be a last resort option.
Colorado law imposes limits on when school districts can hold special elections. Colorado only allows special elections in even numbered years on pre-established general and primary election days in May and November. In odd-numbered years, special school district elections can only occur on the first Tuesday in November.
School districts that want to exceed their TABOR limit can sometimes combine this request with a city TABOR request.