Not to be deterred – because really, what is there to deter a party when it has majorities in both houses of the state Legislature, if it is neither rain nor heat nor gloom of night, nor a rabid pandemic that forces its members to suspend their regularly scheduled session? – some Democratic Colorado lawmakers announced last week they will bow to the obvious by abandoning their repeated attempts to get a paid family and medical leave bill through the Legislature, and focus instead on backing efforts to gather enough signatures this summer, despite social distancing, to place a tax for it on the November ballot.
Democrats running for reelection to the state House, and that’s the entire majority, may have to choose, particularly on the Front Range, whether they want to support this witches’ brew in the teeth of a recession or face the ire of progressives who believe a pandemic proves now is just the right time.
We mentioned this initiative recently among the many that were stalled owing to the difficulty of signature-gathering and said how much we looked forward to not seeing it and its kin mailed to us in October. We underestimated some Democrats’ hard-headedness.
Not all of them. One of the reasons this legislation could not pass on a party-line vote in February, before the Legislature was so rudely interrupted, was Angela Williams, a state senator from Denver and a Democrat, who said, basta. “This bill in its current form does not deliver a benefit to the vast majority who tend to work in low-wage jobs that often lack stability,” she told Denver’s 9News.
There are several versions of the bill that could head to the ballot, which require businesses to offer paid time off. The time would be paid by taxing businesses and their employees. In an earlier version that Democrats tried to advance in the last session, the benefit would have covered all state workers, including public sector workers, but only private sector employers could be taxed. In effect, they and their employees would have subsidized an increase in public-sector benefits. That met stiff opposition from Colorado business interests alert to such cost-shifting.
Democrats were working on a compromise bill this session before the pandemic hit and before two Democratic sponsors, including Williams, got gun-shy. In light of the pandemic and a brewing recession, state business interests also balked at imposing a new tax.
“All of our stakeholders walked away from this process and this is something that needs to happen now more than ever,” said Rep. Yadira Caraveo, a Democrat from Thornton.
The two halves of that statement are hard to reconcile.
At the same time, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce has asked the state Supreme Court to review the proposed ballot questions. Paid leave proponents say it would be paid by a fee, not a tax, and therefore putting it on the ballot will not violate the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
The Chamber says that’s misleading, and it is right.
A ruling is expected in late May or early June. If proponents get a green light, they will have to gather more than 100,000 signatures, which they plan to do while wearing masks, maintaining a 6-foot distance and offering what they say are individually sealed pens. Probably you won’t even get to keep the pen if you sign, because there are no free lunches, there is still no toilet paper and it is one heck of a time to push this – but sometimes, talking to extremists about moderation is like chatting about astronomy with a chimpanzee; the chimp nods and grins and sticks its thumb in your eye.