Let’s be clear: taxes have one purpose – funding government responsibilities. Period. Taxes aren’t meant to manipulate the economy or employment, and don’t reliably impact either. Thus, Colorado voters shouldn’t try predicting potential job gains/losses from the small, temporary sales and income tax increase proposed by Senator Rollie Heath. Despite warnings from some conservative groups, tax rates don’t influence job choices or migration for average Americans.
When I relocated my family to Colorado from Illinois, the primary reasons were lifestyle – outdoor living, great schools, and cultural experiences. So, while statistics indicate we moved from a high-tax to a low-tax state, taxes had nothing to do with our decision. In fact, as I consider the migrations of many former Illinois residents I know in Colorado, the reasons were education, employment, and lifestyle. Taxes were never a factor.
Recently, the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, a local think tank, published a study warning of job losses in Colorado if Senator Heath’s proposal succeeds. However, the conclusions are hardly definitive. Voters should remember that correlation doesn’t equal causation, and the CSPR study proved no causation between tax increases and job losses. Illinois passed a 66% income tax increase last year, yet its unemployment figures are comparable to Colorado’s. Florida and Nevada, with no state income tax, are in worse shape. Additionally, studies confirm that infrastructure and education spending are far more significant in business location than tax rates. Thus, Colorado could see more growth by sustaining its infrastructure and schools than by cutting funding.
In a desire to connect low taxes and economic growth, many conservative pundits praise low-tax Texas for leading the nation in job growth. Actually, it leads the nation in minimum-wage jobs with no benefits, as well as the percentage of children without health insurance. Texas has one of the worst education records, its unemployment numbers are rising, and it’s facing a $20 billion deficit. Even when jobs and population grow, a myriad of factors are involved. Texas, for example, has lower property values and cost of living, and much of its growth is linked to oil reserves.
Economic systems are far more complex than any single tax rate, and voters are naïve to think otherwise. The Bush tax cuts produced a “jobless” recovery and no net job growth after a decade. By contrast, Clinton’s tax hike coincided with America’s greatest economic expansion. Neither situation resulted from tax policy. The 1980s saw two tax cuts and six tax increases. Yet, drops in inflation, interest rates, and oil prices predominantly influenced the decade’s growth. And the Reagan Era also saw a Wall Street meltdown, a housing bubble, a major banking scandal, and a subsequent recession. Clearly, tax policy was not the primary factor of these events.
Voters should make tax policy decisions based on one priority – the needs of the community. Colorado’s strained state budget resulted from revenue drops – not out-of-control spending. In fact, in the last gubernatorial election, Republican candidates couldn’t identify any specific cuts to the Colorado budget, despite repeated media requests. In reality, Colorado’s modest government requires more revenue to meet its communities’ needs. In this regard, Senator Heath’s minor tax increase is actually quite pragmatic precisely because it expires, allowing time for economic recovery. By maintaining well-funded schools, Colorado can continue to promote itself as a great place to relocate businesses and families.
Despite the wishes of conservative groups, government cannot cease functioning when the economy struggles. Regardless of Wall Street drops or rising unemployment, children still go to school, crimes still occur, roads still wear down. Natural forces don’t wait for good economic times, and nature doesn’t limit snowfall based on budget projections. So, even in a downturn the forest department might need more funds for firefighting or CDOT might need more funds for plowing and repairs. In fact, when the economy tanks, the government often needs to sustain spending until the private sector rebounds.
Despite the ideology of groups like the CSPR, tax policy doesn’t drive the economy. And in reviewing predictions about job growth from the economist commissioned by the CSPR, voters should recall the tongue-in-cheek wisdom of Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Samuelson – “Economists have successfully predicted nine of the last five recessions.”