Scherr: Clearing up Prop CC rhetoric
The Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights is probably the most complex single amendment to our state’s constitution. And any ballot issue regarding TABOR inevitably causes confusion, which is not helped by misleading or erroneous opinions that reliably fly around during silly season.
There have recently been a few of those opinions in the Vail Daily regarding Proposition CC on our ballots this year, and I want to clarify some particular points.
TABOR is a many-faceted gem, and this facet requires all Colorado governments to cap their annual revenues based on last year’s expenses plus inflation and population growth … unless voters decide to waive that limit. One writer correctly noted this year’s state budget was the biggest ever. Left out was the fact that the state’s economy was also the largest ever, and the state budget relative to the economy has continually shrunk since the implementation of TABOR.
There seems to be much confusion over individual tax refunds versus rebates as well. A tax refund is what the state returns to you at the end of the year if you have overpaid what you owe in tax throughout the year. A rebate is returning what you actually owed in taxes, which is what happens because of the state revenue cap. One writer used an analogy of paying $10 for an $8.50 McDonald’s burger. It would indeed be criminal if they did not return $1.50 for your overpayment. But the TABOR revenue cap would be like getting $2 back ($1.50 refund and 50 cent rebate), because (for some strange reason) McDonald’s limits how much money it can accept, regardless of the cost of the burger. Prop CC does not affect refunds in any way but requires rebating normal tax revenue, regardless of the cost of providing state services.
One writer claimed the legislature could spend these funds on priorities other than the promised areas of education and transportation. I don’t disagree, actually. But I am one of those who believe in republican democracy and that it is the job of our elected officials to budget and spend our money based on our collective priorities. If they fail to do that responsibly, then … elections! Prop CC includes a provision for an annual audit declaring how these funds are spent every year. If the audit shows bad faith spending, throw the bums out!
Next, the debate about whether this is a tax increase. But do we care what we call what we all have to pay for the things government does? Tax, fee, tariff, toll … you still have to pay to have roads or schools! And Prop CC does not touch in the slightest the facet of TABOR that requires voters to approve any new or increased tax, as one writer suggested.
A writer claims that legislators want to strip one of the fundamentals of TABOR, and they should have the nerve to say so. Inflammatory language aside, isn’t a referred ballot question the honest way to ask voters if they want a change? In fact, Coloradans across the state have already approved this exact thing at the local level. Voters in 80% of Colorado counties, 84% of towns, and 97% of school districts have already removed the TABOR revenue cap from their local authorities. People (not legislators) have decided that revenue limits harm their government’s ability to invest in essential public services. This is not a new idea or decision; it’s only new at the state level (where transportation and education funding happen), and legislators are actually asking us! What is underhanded about that?
I actually do agree with one writer that TABOR is working as intended: that is, to limit government. That in itself is a perfectly fine goal when targeted at inefficient or undesirable government. But the whole of TABOR was built to allow these kinds of tweaks after we have seen it in practice and find where it “overachieves” or misses the mark. If Prop CC passes, TABOR will still be there, just not this one facet that has caused our state to fall behind in the essential areas of education and transportation.
You can probably tell that I am voting for CC. Of course, you should make up your own mind, and I hope we will all work to represent these things fairly and honestly to each other so we can all make truly informed decisions.