Fields column: TABOR unites Coloradans
In a growing partisan culture, there’s still something Coloradans ranging the political spectrum can agree on … the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). In recent public polling, when given the simple, unbiased definition, 71 percent of registered voters in Colorado support TABOR, while only 28 percent oppose the law.
What’s the secret to this overwhelming popularity? First, Coloradans love being able to vote on tax increases. It’s simple: The government has to make the case to voters in order to get more of their hard-earned money. Second, TABOR provides guardrails for the size of government. The state budget still grows every year, but the growth is limited. TABOR keeps the government truly serving the people.
Over the last several years, voters have sent a message to state lawmakers by voting down the last six statewide tax increases on the ballot — most by huge margins. But this hasn’t stopped lawmakers and progressive special interest groups from developing workarounds in the form of fees, enterprises and lawsuits to allow the state to spend more taxpayer money.
With the Democrats running the House, Senate and governor’s office, it’s becoming more and more likely that the General Assembly will push for a Referendum C-style bill, mimicking the period between 2005-2010 when voters barely passed a measure letting the state keep their TABOR refunds. Just enough Coloradans agreed at the time because they were told the money would be divided among two high priority areas — education and health care.
In hindsight, we know that lawmakers were selling a bill of goods. Spending on other programs grew by 28 percent, more than twice as much as spending on education and health care (12 percent). The Legislature sold voters one thing and did another.
Coloradans saw what was happening, and in a 2007 poll by the Denver Metro Chamber, only 16 percent said they felt the money was spent or “mostly spent” as was intended. That number is staggering.
Voters know that a “Referendum C 2.0” is just another attempt at a tax hike that doesn’t hold lawmakers to their promises. The money wasn’t spent correctly, and voters won’t fall for this scheme again.
As the idea moves forward, however, it will put Gov. Polis in a tough position. If he doesn’t support the measure at the ballot, he’ll risk upsetting his liberal base. If he does support it, it’s likely that he’ll lose the first big ballot issue he gets behind as governor.
The main reason that voters will reject “Referendum C 2.0” is because state government already has the resources its needs. Our budget is $33 billion … up from $19 billion just 10 years ago. We have a $1.4 billion surplus this year. Voters want the government to fix our roads, put more money into classrooms instead of administration, and respect the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
Some good news is that we’re lucky in Colorado to have a balanced budget requirement and the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which help keep spending and debt under control. This angers left-wing groups, like Colorado Fiscal Institute, which is pushing its effort to fully repeal TABOR all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court.
In 1992, liberals claimed there would be “chaos,” that Colorado would be “closed for business” if we implemented TABOR. But that hasn’t happened … not even a little bit. Colorado has the No. 1 economy in the nation. That’s no accident. And with support for TABOR so high, any attack will be met with strong, bipartisan opposition — rightfully so.
Michael Fields is executive director of Colorado Rising Action.