GOP angst building over eliminating Colorado budget limit
DENVER, Colorado ” Republican angst is building over a bill some lawmakers believe would gut the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights by repealing spending limits in the state budget.
One of the targets of their anger is Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland, the lone member of their party who backed the measure. But Marostica said Tuesday he isn’t backing down, despite heavy pressure from fellow Republicans who staged a 10-hour filibuster in the Senate on Monday against his bill.
The measure would get rid of automatic transfers to highway construction when tax revenues are up and allow lawmakers to decide each year how much should go to higher education and Medicaid. State law allows the total general fund budget to grow only by 6 percent a year. Any leftover revenue must be spent first on highway construction and then other building projects.
The 6 percent budget rule is known as the Arveschoug (AR’-ve-scow)-Bird limit, after the lawmakers who sponsored the change in 1991, and conservatives believe it was grandfathered into the Constitution when voters adopted the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in 1992.
Marostica said Republicans made a mistake when they claimed spending limits are working in Colorado and preventing the state from going into a steeper downturn. The state is facing a $1 billion financial crunch in the next fiscal year.
Marostica said voters have given the state $3.4 billion in tax surplus refunds over the past three years but that the money was not enough to meet the state’s budget needs. The funds came from a voter-approved measure known as Referendum C.
He said fiscal policy has been weakened by a variety of spending rules, including Arveschoug-Bird and the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights or TABOR, which limits government tax and spending. He also blamed Amendment 23, which requires annual increased spending on public education, and the Gallagher amendment which limits residential property taxes to a percentage if total property tax revenues.
“We’ve got to stop telling people this lie. The lie is that all of these amendments ” TABOR, Amendment 23, Gallagher and Arveschoug-Bird, are working. I understand their angst. How can you tell people you lied to them for 17 years. How can they go back and say they made a mistake?” he asked.
Sen. Dave Schultheis, a Republican from Colorado Springs, birthplace of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, said voters didn’t make a mistake when they approved TABOR. He said they recognized that the state’s economy could change and included a provision requiring voter approval to increase taxes.
“Republicans aren’t about to admit they made a mistake. It’s not a mistake when you can go back to the voters. That’s not a mistake, that’s a safeguard,” Schultheis said.
House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, said many Republicans agree that the 6 percent limit has flaws, but he believes Marostica is taking the wrong approach to fix it. May said one of the biggest flaws is the fact that it forces lawmakers to spend more money to prop it up to reach the 6 percent limit when times are lean rather than focus on the economic priorities at hand.
“It’s an imperfect system, but the answer isn’t to chuck it. The answer is to repair it,” May said.
Schultheis said lawmakers who support the bill have misplaced priorities, thinking government has to step in when economic times are bad.
“We want to have heart, we want to have compassion, but that’s not the role of government. That’s the role of nonprofit organizations and churches,” Schultheis said.