Mark Hillman: Colorado Democrats aim to bypass voters on tax limits
Vail, CO, Colorado
Emboldened that the state Supreme Court still hasn’t ruled on Gov. Bill Ritter’s plainly unconstitutional property tax hike, tax-and-spenders at the state Capitol are drawing up their game plan for another end-run around voters.
If they can get away with hiking property taxes by claiming it’s not a tax increase, then Democrats are increasingly confident they can again bypass voters and the state Constitution by claiming that a spending limit is something else.
The Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) in the state Constitution famously mandates that taxes cannot be increased without voter approval. However, voters also get the final word on weakening any limits on “revenue, spending and debt.”
In 2005, Referendum C suspended much of TABOR for five years and modified other portions indefinitely. However, Ref C left intact a provision that limits annual increases in general fund spending to 6 percent and devotes anything over that amount to roads and bridges.
Now Democrats and one Republican want to eviscerate that limit, too, although their justification and methods are dubious.
Even Gov. Ritter’s budget office, known for its dreamily-optimistic projections, doesn’t expect general fund growth to bump against the limit in the next four years.
Why, then, are liberals chafing at a limit that won’t actually impede them anytime soon? For the same reason their counterparts in Washington turned an “economic stimulus” bill into a big-government spending binge.
“You never want a crisis to go to waste,” reminds Rahm Emanuel, chief of staff to President Obama.
Taxpayers striving to keep their own financial boat afloat don’t have time to worry about the minutiae of government formulas, so Democrats shamelessly use today’s economic distress to dismantle anything that might slow state spending when the economy rebounds.
“We don’t have a spending problem, we have a revenue problem,” complain activists at the liberal Colorado Center on Law and Policy. Translation: “Government can’t spend enough because taxes aren’t high enough.”
No wonder they don’t trust the voters.
Next, Jean Dubofsky, a former Supreme Court justice with a crafty legal mind and a penchant for legislating from the bench, proffered a clever legal strategy.
Dubofsky is no neutral observer. She’s a board member of the Colorado ACLU and two liberal think tanks that despise TABOR. Her opinion suggests that the 6 percent limit really isn’t a limit and can, therefore, be changed without voter approval.
Two Democrat legislators are dutifully parroting that message. Denver Rep. Mark Ferrandino claims the 6 percent limit “doesn’t actually limit the amount of money we’re spending.” Colorado Springs Sen. John Morse calls the 6 percent limit “an allocation strategy. TABOR is silent on allocation strategies.”
Past Legislatures and former governors from both parties have taken TABOR at its word when it plainly says: “Other limits on … revenue, spending and debt may be weakened only by future voter approval.” Further, the Constitution requires that TABOR’s “preferred interpretation shall reasonably restrain most the growth of government.”
Although a spending limit of 6 percent is indeed arbitrary, it is hardly draconian.
Yes, it could cause major difficulty in an age of hyper-inflation, but for eight of the past 10 years, 6 percent was more than the combined growth of inflation and population.
Why, then, do liberals find it so oppressive? Because expanding entitlement spending is the holy grail of the left. More people who depend on government means more votes for the party that promises bigger government.
It’s ironic that liberals who liken government spending to “investment” now prefer to shift money away from lasting infrastructure and into social programs where more spending always begets demand for more spending.
If Gov. Ritter and Democrat legislators aren’t willing to trust voters with these decisions, as the Constitution requires, why should voters trust them with their taxes?
Mark Hillman served as Colorado senate majority leader and state treasurer. To read more or comment, go to http://www.MarkHillman.com.