- About Us
- Take Action
- Make a Donation
“Proposed TABOR changes bad for taxpayers”
There is a new battle in Colorado between taxpayers with families to feed and politicians hungry for bigger government. The truce line between them since 1992 has been TABOR, a constitutional formula that keeps the bureaucracy on a diet. Now the politicians, mostly Democrats plus a few Republicans, want to fiddle with the formula to set off a spending binge.
As former legislative leaders, we understand the pressures that push officeholders in this direction. But we also know from experience that those pressures are not in the public interest. We urge Coloradans to support TABOR and say "no" when the issue comes to a vote next fall.
The Taxpayer's Bill of Rights has protected taxpayers the past dozen years by requiring voter approval for tax hikes - and by allowing government to grow no faster than inflation and population. It is being watched and imitated by tax reformers in other states from Vermont to Nevada, Wisconsin to Tennessee.
During the prosperous 1990s, while many states were spending money as fast as it gushed in, TABOR kept Colorado on a responsible budget path. State spending grew by only 63 percent in the decade through 2002. California revved its budget by 90 percent in the same period, and found itself in a $34 billion hole when the boom times ended. Colorado was saved from going in the hole by the fiscal guardrails in its constitution.
Those guardrails have also helped Colorado's economy accelerate. In the decade before TABOR, personal income grew sluggishly, the private sector added fewer jobs than government, and zero dollars were refunded to taxpayers. In the next 10 years, the increase of private sector jobs was nine times that of government jobs, personal income growth almost doubled, and more than $3 billion in surplus taxes were refunded to the people who had earned them.
That same $3 billion, unfortunately, is now the subject of a shell game. Big government suddenly wants it back, and the legislature has proposed Referendum C for a tax increase in that amount (or possibly much more) on the November ballot. It's a bad deal. The taxman wants to "keep the change" on everything above population and inflation that he collects from you until at least 2010.
The message from House Speaker Andrew Romanoff and his not-very-bipartisan coalition translates as "No Refund for You." They'd have you believe that it's TABOR limits, not the Amendment 23 school money, that has squeezed the budget since 2001. Don't believe it. The problem is 23 in particular and fiscal laziness in general.
Colorado's budget writers need a refresher course in kitchen-table economics. A working family, when there's not enough money to buy everything it wants, will prioritize and tighten its belt. The state should be no different - yet its spending has grown every year. The increase was almost 7 percent this year.
True, the spending wish list for next year is 2 percent above the allowed tax revenue, but that's no crisis. Analysts from the Reason Foundation and Independence Institute have combed through Colorado's $15 billion budget and demonstrated how its core functions can thrive without higher taxes. They found $615 million in realistic, achievable savings for the state - more than three times the alleged revenue shortfall.
Just one of their proposals identifies more than $200 million in potential savings from consolidating duplicative bureaucracies. Do Coloradans really need the 200-plus obscure commissions and boards, padded with patronage appointees, that now clutter state government? Why not thin out this wasteful spaghetti bowl, instead of threatening scary cuts in services?
Looking back, TABOR's restraint on over-government has clearly been good for your quality of life, your pocketbook, and your liberty in years past. Looking ahead, TABOR's healthy discipline now gives the Centennial State an opportunity to show the way for other states in trimming bureaucratic flab for leaner, better government in years to come.
That's why we believe Colorado needs TABOR now more than ever. That's why we say "no thanks" to the "No Refund for You" plan on Colorado's November ballot.
Dick Armey is chairman of Freedom- Works and former majority leader of the U.S. House. John Andrews is chairman of Backbone America Citizens Alliance, former president of the Colorado Senate, and regularly contributes a Sunday column to The Post.