POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Proposition 118: Should Colorado voters approve state-run family and medical leave insurance? | Opinion

Point: duCharme

As a small-business owner, I know that my success depends on my ingenuity, my dedication, and my ability to think creatively. But it also depends on the employees I hire, since it is my staff who interact with clients and are the face of my company. Proposition 118 will give my employees the security of having a paid leave option with job security when, at one point or another, they will need this coverage.

I run a small pottery painting studio in Colorado Springs. Before COVID, my store was a vibrant, creative space bustling with people who came to create pieces that would be treasured forever.

It’s a busy, fast-paced environment that requires good customer service skills. We are now adapting our operations to the new normal, but the fact remains: I need a specific kind of employee — talented, outgoing, reassuring — that many other, much bigger companies are often also seeking… and enticing with better benefits.

I know that an affordable paid leave option like the one in Proposition 118 is a great policy for my business. I can only afford to offer a limited time off benefit to some of my employees, and I pay out-of-pocket for it. It’s worth more to me to invest in my employees than to repeatedly look for and train new ones. Still, I’ve lost employees to places that offer better benefits and I’ve had employees who’ve put off major medical decisions because they couldn’t afford to not have a paycheck during their recovery. No one should have to make the choice between their health and their job, which is why we must pass Proposition 118 in November.

When you work with a small number of employees they become like family and you care about their ability to make ends meet. When my store manager became seriously ill and was hospitalized, I paid for several extra weeks of leave for her. I didn’t want her to worry about bills while hospitalized and I wanted her to come back when she was ready to work again. I also had to fill her hours, so I had extra payroll. It was a struggle, but it was the right thing to do for my employee and for my business.

Proposition 118 would have made this situation much more manageable. The law creates an insurance option, available to businesses in Colorado, and would benefit more than 2.6 million workers in our state. The cost is shared between the employee and employer and an average Colorado worker would pay less than $5 a week for this coverage. If my employee has to care for themselves, a loved one, or a newborn, it’s the insurance that pays the bulk of their wages instead of me. Knowing that my employee has the financial security to return to work when they are fully ready, means we both benefit in the long run. Additionally, small businesses like mine, with 9 or fewer employees, are exempt from the employer premium, yet my employees still have access to the benefit.

As Coloradans, we believe in the family values that make our city and state great. We’re also entrepreneurs and innovators, who know you have to compete to succeed. It’s time we live our values and give small businesses like mine a chance to compete.

And let’s give hardworking Coloradans the chance to put their families first without worrying about losing their income or their job. Proposition 118 is good for families, good for business and good for Colorado, and I know we will pass it this November.

Counterpoint: Mejia

To say that 2020 has been a challenge is a colossal understatement. By nearly every measure, 2020 has been nothing short of a dumpster fire. From a global pandemic to economic chaos to racial unrest and raging forest fires in the West, Coloradans have been pushed to the max. And, we’re not done yet.

This November, Coloradans will face significant choices on the ballot. Some of these choices will have wide-ranging impacts on our economy, our businesses and our family budgets. We have important decisions to make, and we simply can’t say afford to get it wrong.

That’s why I am asking you to join me and vote NO on 118.

Proposition 118 seeks to create a $1.3 billion state-run family and medical leave insurance program. The program represents one of the richest benefit packages in the nation and would allow eligible employees up to 16 weeks of paid leave to care for themselves, a family member or a nonfamily member during specified circumstances.

Supporters of the measure have the best of intentions — to provide a benefit to employees. Unfortunately, this measure misses the mark and does far more harm than good.

First and foremost is the cost. The measure requires employers and employees to pay a 0.9% to 1.2% payroll premium, or tax, deducted directly from employee wages — like a FICA tax. For instance, an employee making $75,000 per year would pay a new premium or tax of $675 split between the employee and the employer.

The solvency of the program is also in question. According to a recent report by the nonpartisan Common Sense Institute, if the program starts at a claims rate of 6.2% and an average length of leave of 9.5 weeks, the 2023 premium collections will not be sufficient to cover benefit and administrative costs in the first year of the program in 2024.

Given that Proposition 118 does not include language to reduce the level of benefits in the event the cost gets too high, this would mean state lawmakers would be faced with the difficult decision to bail out the fund by again raising taxes or allowing the new paid leave government enterprise to take on debt which will only mean higher premiums in future years.

It gets worse. The measure sets up a new Family and Medical Leave Department in state government with a political appointee in charge. The newly appointed head of the department will be granted unprecedented power to raise the premium or tax from 0.9% to 1.2%. An employee making $75,000 per year would see their tax contribution grow from $675 to $900. That’s an additional $450 per year in new taxes right off the top of their annual salary for that employee’s share — for a benefit that might never be used.

As the Colorado Chamber recently said, “The uncertainty of the situation globally and nationally has forced many businesses to close temporarily, layoff and furlough valued employees, and seek out financial assistance to stay afloat. Benefits like paid leave are meaningless if Coloradans don’t have stable employment.”

I take heart in the fact that despite every problem and every hardship we have faced this year, our friends, neighbors, employees and even strangers have stood up, pulled together and demonstrated strength, courage, devotion and empathy. We can do better but Proposition 118 is not the answer.

As a business owner and as a Coloradan, I sympathize with the challenge of caring for a loved one that many of my employee’s face. I want to support them and that’s why I’ll vote NO on Proposition 118 — an expensive, lavish new program destined for bankruptcy.

Tracy duCharme is a small business owner and entrepreneur in Colorado Springs. Mari Medrano Mejia is the human resources director for CoCal Landscape.

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