Colorado Senate panel backs easing spending limits
DENVER, Colorado ” A proposal to eliminate spending limits on the state budget is advancing at the Capitol.
The Senate Finance Committee voted late Tuesday to back the measure (Senate Bill 228), sending it to the full Senate for debate. All Democrats voted for it, and all Republicans voted against it.
Right now, the state’s general fund budget, which covers items like public schools, prisons and higher education, can grow by only 6 percent each year. Any leftover money must be spent on transportation and building projects.
The bill would eliminate those limits.
The 6 percent rule is known as the Arveschoug (AR’-ve-scow)-Bird limit, after the lawmakers who sponsored the change in 1991.
Bill sponsor Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, said the budget rules force the lawmakers to spend the money based on formulas and not the state’s needs. He argued the rules are “arbitrary spending allocations” on where tax dollars can be spent rather than a limit on the growth of the overall budget.
“This bill, when it passes, will not save the taxpayers a dime nor cost the taxpayers a dime,” Morse said. “It will just restore to the Legislature the decisions as to whether to increase the general fund by 6 percent, or 5 percent, or 4 percent or 9 percent, or whatever the general assembly decides to do, assuming there’s money there to do it with.”
The Taxpayers Bill of Rights, passed by voters in 1992, would still limit the amount of tax dollars the state could keep. Under it, revenue can’t grow by more than the growth of population plus inflation. It also protects previous spending limits from being weakened.
Nearly two decades ago, legislative legal advisers told lawmakers that TABOR protected the 6 percent limit from being changed. But bill backers, including former state Supreme Court member Jean Dubofsky, say the advisers made a mistake in assuming Arveschoug-Bird was a limit on spending. Like Morse, she says the law told lawmakers how to spend money but didn’t set limits and doesn’t affect the overall amount of money the state can spend.
Without the 6 percent limit, Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, said he fears that lawmakers would spend more money on entitlement programs and not set aside enough funds for transportation. He called the measure “highway robbery” and said it would force lawmakers to pass more fee hikes to pay for roads, as they’re considering doing this year.
Douglas Bruce, a former state lawmaker who helped draft TABOR, has said he expects a lawsuit if lawmakers make the change without voter approval.
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