Saturday, January 9, 2016

Build a Better Colorado can fix CO's TABOR problem

Colorado is a uniquely "purple state," with a blend of liberal/conservative/independent Democrats & Republicans. In a perfect world that would mean a degree of moderation that leads to very effective government. And, the Rocky Mountain state does pretty well managing services and expenses with limited revenue and legislation. But the libertarian spirit that runs through all groups - and which was behind voters approval of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) in 1992 - created one heck of a "Gordian knot" in terms of voters rights and responsible governance. Nowhere is that more true than with TABOR, which has required several voter-approved "time outs" because of the necessity of maintaining a strong infrastructure and productive society. And, in 2016 the state is in need of a serious, practical, and permanent fix to TABOR.

Having moved to Colorado in 2003 from fiscally-messy Illinois, I can appreciate and support the desires of Colorado voters to have the final authority for approving all tax increases. And, I can firmly assert that the tax-approval right was the primary - and really only - reason voters passed TABOR. Everything else in the amendment is a hinderance to effective government and needs to change. The "everything else" refers to the revenue cap based on an obscure, arbitrary, and ultimately indefensible formula that mandates Colorado's government budget can only grow by inflation + population growth. Any revenue collected beyond that must be refunded to voters. Applying formulas to societies is simply ... irresponsible. We live in complex emergent systems which are far too malleable and intricate to reduce to a formula. Thus, I firmly believe that a majority of Coloradans would and should support an amending of the TABOR amendment to simply maintain voter-approval of taxes ... and that's it.

While the ideologues in the Republican party and unaffiliated libertarians will cry foul and rant conspiratorially about reckless and uncontrolled government, the rational people may have a chance for productive change by supporting the work of a bi-partisan, or non-partisan, lobbying group known as Building a Better Colorado. As the group prepares to float as many as three or four ballot initiatives this election year, the fix of TABOR is the most important one. Here's hoping the group - backed by many prominent Coloradan leaders can actually overhaul TABOR and truly Build a Better Colorado.

The one idea the group did not entertain from the start is the complete repeal of TABOR, in particular the constitutional requirement that voters approve all tax hikes. However, the project's leader said he was surprised at the level of support for removing the revenue caps, which restrict state budget spending and provide taxpayer refunds in boom years. "There's an increasing percentage of the electorate (for which) TABOR is not as sacrosanct as it was to some," Brown said. Brown said the idea has more support among likely voters when coupled with "a prescription on how it would be spent." The state's current budget situation, in which it is issuing taxpayer refunds but facing spending cuts, is a motivating factor, he said. Chris Watney, the president at the nonprofit Colorado Children's Campaign, applauded the move. "Having more ability to invest and more flexibility in how we do so, I do think would have a positive impact on things like education and health care," she said.

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