Amendment 51 also important to business community

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Dear Editor,
Thanks to John Hazlehurst for the very detailed review of the array of ballot initiatives facing Colorado voters in November (“Amendments could change face of Colorado economy,” Sept. 19).
One initiative not covered in the article is Amendment 51, which offers an amendment to Colorado statutes (thankfully, not an amendment to the Colorado constitution) that would provide long overdue and desperately necessary funding for thousands of Coloradans with developmental disabilities who languish on seemingly endless waiting lists for services across our state.
Perhaps one could excuse its exclusion from the piece in the journal, as it isn’t immediately apparent how it affects business.
Make no mistake, this issue impacts business, and our local and state economy in profound ways. And, it deserves our support.
There are about 12,000 kids and adults with developmental disabilities (such as autism, Down syndrome and other cognitive and intellectual disabilities) on waiting lists for services across the great State of Colorado. In our local region alone, we have about 1,600 people waiting for services. These are folks who, through no fault of anyone, will need lifelong supports and services in order to enjoy any quality of life. Their conditions are chronic — we can’t “rehabilitate” a person with a developmental disability.
Amendment 51 would provide a modest, phased-in state sales and use tax of two-tenths of one percent (0.2 percent). The money generated by Amendment 51 will provide new funding for people with developmental disabilities and their families — our neighbors and friends, our colleagues and peers, our students and our seniors. When fully implemented, Amendment 51 will raise $186 million annually.
When considering whether or not Amendment 51 is a business issue, I would offer the following observations.
Of the 12,000 folks waiting for services, the overwhelming majority are working-age adults who, with appropriate supports, could and should be working. Indeed, they want to work. They actually want to be tax-paying, contributing members of their neighborhoods, their communities and the state they call home.
Yet, because they often need formal supported employment services that they can’t access because of a lack of funding (Colorado ranks 46th in the United States in fiscal support for developmental disability services), they remain an untapped labor force. They aren’t given the opportunity to contribute to the tax base. They aren’t given the opportunity to decrease reliance on public welfare benefits (which are very costly to the tax payer), and instead become more self-reliant.
Amendment 51 is good business. It affords Colorado’s most vulnerable a safety net that is conspicuously absent for thousands. It’s a small price to pay to help those who just happen to have a developmental disability, and to help strengthen our community, socially and economically, turning folks who are left with no other options but to rely on expensive public welfare benefits to contributing members of our society.
And to help address, in 2008 and 2009 dollars, what in five or 10 years will be exponentially more expensive for all of us.
I urge a “yes” vote on Amendment 51.
David A. Ervin, Executive director, The Resource Exchange Inc.