Mulhall column: ‘De-Brucing’ Colorado
On July 2, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis welcomed former Reagan economic advisor Art Laffer to the capitol to help gin up Republican support for Proposition CC, which would allow Colorado to keep and spend $1.2 billion in tax revenue surpluses estimated over the next three years.
These revenue surpluses would ordinarily get refunded under Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), and right now there’s $575 million on the table, so Gov. Polis may call a special session to make a play for it.
Perhaps because some of Colorado’s Democrat leaders don’t think something like a Constitutional amendment should stand in the way of spending.
Under TABOR, state and local governments, including schools, cannot raise tax rates without voter approval. Likewise, if tax revenues roll in faster than the rate of inflation and population growth, Colorado cannot spend the windfall without voter approval.
To many, TABOR’s not a popular amendment, and nearly every article on the subject invokes the fact that TABOR’s author spent time in the pokey for tax evasion, as though you’d have to flip a lot of rocks to find a slimier SOB. But the guy took taxation seriously, and in 1992 Colorado voters did too.
TABOR arises from the idea that government can only spend what it gets by taxing citizens, which as almost anyone will tell you is only true in laboratory conditions.
Every Colorado politician was once a citizen and at some point answered the question, “Government! What does it do, and what should it do?”
Even if a Colorado politician never answers that question publicly, his or her stance on TABOR tells you almost everything you need to know.
By 2010, most Colorado voters knew Jared Polis by his first of five terms in Congress, yet last year we elected him governor anyway, so it should come as no surprise that after his gubernatorial dalliances with gun control and the Electoral College, he’s now set his sight on TABOR.
Yes, this Nov. 5, your ballot might pose the question, “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?”
What a rosy way to say “if you let us spend what we owe you plus any windfalls that occur from here on out, future politicians will show you how it’s spent.”
A blank check. A Seventh Street beautification fund. A weekend at Bernie’s. Call it what you want, but Gov. Polis looks at surplus revenues due back to Colorado taxpayers the way a sweaty glutton looks at a porterhouse — a nice start.
And why not? The spending isn’t over when the surplus is gone, for Proposition CC “de-Bruces” Colorado.
It’s a verb for undoing TABOR, and it came about because it happens all the time — 200 Colorado municipalities and 174 of Colorado’s 178 school districts have already de-Bruced to one degree or another, as well as numerous counties and special districts.
How do you “de-Bruce?”
That’s easy. Write a ballot measure like Proposition CC and get it passed. Up to now, no one’s had the chutzpah to do it at the state level.
Of course, de-Brucing Colorado begs the question, “Why have a constitutional amendment if politicians just work ways around it?”
The answer, of course, is that we shouldn’t — if you go by the view of those who see TABOR as an unenlightened nuisance that stands in the way of government.
From a social compact standpoint, de-Brucing is at best a dismissive way to look at consent of the people.
At worst? Well, that’s harder to imagine because it’s something like chaos — a social compact so constantly undermined that in time it fails to unify.
Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father and longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com.
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