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“Colorado's Test Vote on Tax Revolt”
This week, Colorado will give the anti-tax revolution a crucial "yea" or "nay," depending on the outcome of a ballot initiative that would temporarily suspend the state's taxpayer bill of rights.
The state is now forecast to run a surplus of $3.7 billion in the next five years, and under the bill of rights - known familiarly as TABOR - the money is to be disbursed as individual taxpayer rebates.
But if voters on Nov. 1 endorse the initiative, known as Referendum C, the money will instead be distributed to the state's cash-hungry health care and education programs. A related initiative, Referendum D, would allow the state to increase borrowing to fund transportation projects.
TABOR was a cause cÃ©lÃ¨bre among small-government conservatives when it was approved with 54 percent of the vote in 1992, and GOP Gov. Bill Owens won conservative accolades when he put the measure forward in 2003 as a model for the nation.
Owens has now reversed field and is campaigning for Referendum C. At the same time, several Washington-based groups that advocate fiscal conservatism are campaigning hard for the measure's rejection. At the moment, polls show the outcome is too close to call.
Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey's FreedomWorks spearheaded a get-out-the-vote campaign against the measure. Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist has also sponsored a get-out-the-vote telephone bank.
Those who want the surplus plowed back into the state budget are suspicious the Norquist and Armey groups are in some way helping to fund an advertising campaign by the Independence Institute, a Colorado-based think tank. The Vote Yes on C & D campaign has sued the institute to try to force the release of its donors' list; the institute will only say that it's financed by a nonprofit group.
More than a single Colorado flagship law is at stake for anti-tax activists, who have a number of TABOR-like proposals in play in other states. If the measure passes, says Beth Skinner of FreedomWorks, "opponents in other states will say it didn't work in Colorado, and it won't work here."