Bell staffers testify on constitutional reform and tuition flexibility
Rich Jones, director of policy and research at the Bell, and Senior Policy Analyst Frank Waterous offered testimony today on three bills important to the Bell.
Jones testified on two bills that concern Colorado's most important legal document – our state constitution. One bill would ask voters to create a constitutional review commission, and the other would ask voters to reform the process by which citizens initiate constitutional amendments.
We believe both bills offer a common-sense approach to reform, and we believe Coloradans should have the opportunity to vote on both proposals in November.
Waterous' testimony was in opposition to SB 10-003 as currently proposed. The bill would make a permanent change in how tuition rates are set for students attending state colleges and universities.
While we understand that tuition may need to increase to account for lower state funding during the recession, we believe so-called "tuition flexibility" should be a temporary fix, not a permanent change.
Here are brief summaries on the bills, with links to our complete testimony:
Senate Concurrent Resolution 10-001
This resolution would refer to voters a measure to create a constitutional review commission and would offer voters the opportunity to periodically revise the state constitution to reconcile conflicting provisions and address unintended consequences.
Colorado's Constitution is easy to amend, and over the last several decades, we, as voters, have amended it frequently by adding a number of provisions affecting a wide range of topics. Inevitably, some of these provisions conflict with one another, and some have had unintended consequences. We have seen that particularly with amendments affecting fiscal policy.
It seems to us that a formal process to periodically review the constitution is a common-sense way to assess how these various measures are working – and how they are interacting with one another – and to make revisions and adjustments as necessary.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 10-003
This resolution would refer to voters a measure to reform the process by which citizens initiate constitutional amendments in Colorado. While protecting this important right for citizens to propose ballot initiatives, it would establish provisions to ensure what ends up in the constitution truly reflects the wishes and interests of the people of Colorado.
Under current law, the requirements for amending the state constitution through citizen initiative and for amending statute through citizen initiative are exactly the same.
We believe that it should not be as easy to amend the state constitution, the foundational document of our state government, as it is to amend laws in Colorado. This proposal would ask voters to put that basic principle into effect through common-sense changes that reflect a broad consensus of civic leaders throughout the state.
Senate Bill 10-003
This bill, as currently proposed, would make a permanent change in how tuition rates are set for students attending state colleges and universities.
Governing boards would be allowed to raise tuition up to 9 percent on their own authority. For tuition increases greater than 9 percent, they would be required to develop "financial and accountability plans" to protect access and affordability for low- and middle-income students, and have the plans approved by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.
The Bell believes that a policy that shifts more and more responsibility to students and families for funding higher education is not a good long-term strategy for expanding opportunity in our state. However, we recognize that, given Colorado's unprecedented funding problems, there is a need for balanced and creative solutions for funding higher education.
But even in these circumstances, tuition flexibility should not represent a policy change in perpetuity for Colorado higher education funding.
Waterous testified in opposition, saying the Bell Policy Center is unable to support the legislation without essential changes to its proposed provisions. Specifically, we believe that the bill should limit the timeframe during which the state's tuition flexibility policy is in effect – that is, it should include provisions to sunset or repeal the policy after a certain number of fiscal years.