Ferry: Prop CC is a blank check with no expiration date
Even though I don’t write a column anymore, some issues demand attention. Today, it’s Proposition CC. The question is, where to start.
The deceptive wording is as good a place as any.
“Without raising taxes and to better fund public schools, higher education, and roads, bridges, and transit, within a balanced budget, may the state keep and spend all the revenue it annually collects after June 30, 2019, but is not currently allowed to keep and spend under Colorado law, with an annual audit to show how the retained revenues are spent?”
It seems to me if the legislature wants to strip one of the fundamentals of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, our lawmakers should have the nerve to say so.
For those of you who don’t know, in 1992 voters amended the Colorado Constitution to limit the growth of government by limiting spending — a bill affectionately known as TABOR.
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If government revenues increase at a rate faster than population growth plus inflation, the excess must be returned to taxpayers except when they vote otherwise. Prop CC is being presented with a big difference from past bills — there is no sunset (specified end date) as has been part of previously voted on exceptions.
Each year’s revenues are the basis for calculating next year’s expenditures. Passage of Ref C in 2004 supposedly allowed for a five-year timeout. The result? Through legislative manipulation, a fiscal shell game called the Ref C Shuffle. Oh, they put Ref C money into education all right — adding $261 million. But not until they reduced the general fund’s contribution by $306 million, resulting in negative funds for K-12. Unfortunately, the same method was used for the health care and transportation promises. So where did the money go? Nobody really knows but “pet projects” comes to mind and I don’t mean the Humane Society.
Even worse, despite a 20% increase in education spending since 1990, teacher pay is down 20%. Why would we ever believe they will solve the problems this time when it was part of the promise last time with Ref C?
In the 13 years since Ref C passed, the state has kept $17 billion (that’s right, a B) more than the original TABOR limit. That’s $12,142 for every family of four in Colorado that they’ve kept. But they want more. And forever. No questions asked — ever. They want us to permanently forego all future refunds. Why? Because between 2003-2018, government spending grew from $244M to $740M and they like it that way.
What about refunds for this year? Based on Gov. Polis’ budget office projections, single filers’ refunds would average $248 and joint filers would receive $638 — all because the economy in Colorado has been so successful. In fact, Colorado has the No. 1 economy in the country, largely because of TABOR and its ability to control spending and inflation, regardless of what the legislature tries to do. What’s the alternative? Think California.
As for seniors and vets? Currently, the first $150 million of refunds goes to cover homestead tax exemptions. There is no guarantee for that if Prop CC passes.
But back to the deceptive wording. The official ballot language never mentions TABOR because its proponents know if they did, the reaction would be different. Public polling shows that 72% of Coloradans support TABOR so the ballot language purposely does not mention that TABOR is under attack. Most voters don’t know it’s TABOR they’re attempting to alter.
Then there’s the misleading “without raising taxes” statement. Really? If it wasn’t a tax increase, it wouldn’t be on the ballot. TABOR requires our vote on tax increases. Do you think they’d ask if the law didn’t require them to?
Very simply, if they don’t give you the refund entitled by law, it is a de facto tax increase. It’s money we’ve already given them for services. The law caps what that can be. The law also says they have to give us back anything in excess of that.
So let’s do a simple analogy. You go into McDonald’s. Your bill comes to $8.50. You give them $10. Do you expect to get $1.50 in change? Or do you say keep it for some anonymous purpose? And by the way, every time I come in here, you can also keep the change — forever. Come on. We all know the answer. Why trust elected officials to handle our money differently than we handle it ourselves?
And by the way, even the liberal Denver Post Editorial Board says “Proposition CC is fatally flawed. Colorado lawmakers can do better than Proposition CC. We recommend voters mark ‘no’ on their ballots….. and send this complex problem back to the General Assembly for another try.”
Remember, politicians can still raise taxes, but with TABOR they have to ask first. What’s wrong with that? And don’t be fooled by the mantra they spout that TABOR doesn’t work. It does. The legislature just doesn’t like the results. Coloradans have rejected the last six statewide tax hikes for good reason. Voters want the government to be more efficient, effective and accountable with the current $32.5 billion dollar budget they already have.
So here’s the recap: There’s no sunset, there’s no defined dedicated purpose, there’s no future cap on government spending, and there’s no refunds — forever.
Vote no on Proposition CC — it’s a blank check with no expiration date.
Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government who used to write a regular column for the Daily.