TABOR- Will We Be Fooled Again?


April 17, 2019

Monday, April 15, is Tax Day. So, it seems like a good time to talk about HB 1257, and our Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. This bill was brought by the Speaker of the House, K.C. Becker. If this passes through the House and Senate, which it probably will, it will be on the ballot and you will have an opportunity to vote on it.

So, you should ask yourself, "what will I be voting on?" The Taxpayer Bill of Rights or TABOR is a constitutional measure that passed on the November 3, 1992 ballot. TABOR limits the annual growth in state revenues or spending to the sum of the annual inflation rate and the annual percentage change in the state's population. (For example, if the general inflation rate is two percent and the state's population grows by one percent, state revenue available for expenditures can increase by three percent. The balance must be refunded to taxpayers. Overriding these limits requires statewide voter approval.

In other words, in Colorado, the government has to ask our permission to raise taxes. Why would we give up forever this important individual right to have our say? The voters did this in 2005, when they approved Referendum C, which suspended the revenue limit in TABOR from 2006 to 2010. It allowed the state to keep the money it would have had to refund to the taxpayers and directed these funds to be spent on health care, public education, transportation projects, and local fire and police pensions. Colorado voters allowed the state to keep over $20 billion extra tax dollars. We were told that a lot of that money would go to transportation, but that wasn't the case. In fact, about one-half of one percent went to transportation. Had that money been returned to us, it would have amounted to a little over $10,000 per household. Will we be fooled again?

This year's ballot initiative is a little different. If voters pass it, the money that would normally be refunded to citizens will be kept by the state and spent on public schools, higher education and roads, bridges and transit. The funds will be distributed a third, a third and a third. And this will go on forever! There is no sunset or time limit like there was on Referendum C. Once you give this right away, it's gone. You may think this is a good idea. After all, you may think we need more money for these things. Even if you do, you need to know that, although the legislation says that is where it will go, there is no guarantee the money will stay there or that it will continually add to the total to be applied to these three issues. Money is fungible, we can add more to the front end, taking it out of the back. And you should question whether the state needs this money.

Our state remains attractive to businesses and individuals alike as it provides a level of certainty and a hedge against the sort of runaway government you've seen in places like California, Illinois and New York. When it comes to education each Colorado student is funded $15,735 per year in state and local dollars. Our problem isn't money, it's vision: our students are seriously underperforming in math, science, reading, and social studies. In spite of all the money we are spending the performance rates aren't improving. Did you know Colorado has over 183 school superintendents? The average salary of these superintendents is $155,598. And one has an annual base salary of $265,000? Perhaps our local school boards need to be more efficient with our education dollars? I admit our roads and bridges are a mess, but do we need more bike lanes?

Think about these things before you decide to vote to allow the State Legislature to keep the money you have coming. Before you vote on the following ballot measure: "Without raising taxes and to better fund public schools, higher education, and roads, bridges, and transit, within a balanced budget, may the state keep and spend all the revenue it annually collects after June 30, 2019, but is not currently allowed to keep and spend under Colorado law, with an annual independent audit to show how the retained revenues are spent?"

Be very clear that this language means the TABOR refund that you are entitled to, when there is an excess of revenue collected by the state, will be kept and spent by the legislature- forever.


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