If you’ve had it with being doomed to eternally suffer Colorado’s crappy, overcrowded roads, underfunded schools, and no-limit college tuition hikes, the state’s top court just handed you a glimmer of hope.
This week, the Colorado Supreme Court said that a simmering ballot question that would let voters excise the state’s malignant anti-government cancer from the Colorado Constitution passes election law muster.
What misguided fans misleadingly call the Taxpayer Bill of Rights has been dead wrong for Colorado since voters inflicted it on themselves back in 1992.
Nick-named TABOR, it was the brainchild of nefarious tax-protester Douglas Bruce, who went on to make history as one of the state’s most dubious public figures: felonious cheater of taxes, kicker of photographers, lord of slums.
Far-right proponents of TABOR bill it as nothing more than the public’s oversight of the government checkbook. Oversimplified, it forces governments to ask taxpayers for any and all tax increases.
Sound cool? It’s not.
The TABOR constitutional language, and I use that term loosely, is much more than just a “may-we-tax-you” restriction. It was written to give tax breaks to investment real estate owners, like Bruce, who wrote it. It was written to not just restrict tax increases, but limit spending on existing taxes. It was written to force the government from growing, even as the state did.
If you want to see the real effect of TABOR, look out your windshield. Because TABOR has restricted spending in myriad ways the voting public never understood, Colorado has fallen epically behind on road maintenance and even further behind on road expansion. Our schools are funded so poorly, that Colorado regularly makes the very bottom of the list for school spending. There’s too little money for college investment, so parents and students must pay endless and apparently limitless tuition hikes.
Long before the Southern California, right-wing extremists invaded this state, among them, Bruce, Republican state Sen. Al Meiklejohn of Arvada was a powerful figure at the state Capitol. Like almost every other state lawmaker, Democrat and Republican, he was tight with the public money.
But he regularly pointed out that when it comes to running any government, and especially state government, pennywise and pound foolish is a costly and ghastly mistake.
“The public debt is either on the books or in the streets,” Meiklejohn regularly advised.
Colorado is now nearly underwater in road and education debt. State highway officials estimate there is more than $9 billion worth of basic road needs in Colorado. That doesn’t count desperately needed mass-transit projects in large metro areas.
That’s what TABOR has done to Colorado. We’re near the top of the list for states needing road dollars, and on the bottom of the list for funding public schools. We shake down college students and their parents to the point of keeping taxpayers from getting college degrees, and we make trying to manage the government a living hell.
And guess where Colorado is in overall taxation? The bottom? Hell, no. We’re right in the middle of the list, just under Texas, according to national tax comparison tables. That’s where Colorado has always been.
In fact, TABOR is such a bad idea that, after more than 20 years, not one single other state has adopted anything like it.
It not only doesn’t do what it’s touted for doing — reducing taxes — it’s ruining Colorado.
That’s not just my opinion, disdain for TABOR has crossed party lines and across state governments for years.
Proponents of the TABOR virus say that the measure enjoys widespread public support. I can guarantee you that those who say it’s a good idea only get the Fox News or Trump version of what TABOR is and what it really does. Serious public education of the history and delusion of TABOR would sour public opinion faster than tickets to a Bill Cosby show.
If you want lower taxes, elect leaders who don’t want to raise them. And long before TABOR became law, that’s always been the case in Colorado.
If you want to hog-tie the government that paves roads, oversees hospitals, funds schools, and protects the public health and environment, then create a mess like TABOR.
If you want to make Colorado better, and we can do this without raising taxes, you want to vote to strike it from the state Constitution.
We’re not there yet.
The Colorado Fiscal Institute, which is the courageous group with the foresight to try and fix TABOR, has been looking at several possible questions to ask voters, and the one OK’d by the Colorado Supreme Court this week is just one of them, according to a story in the Colorado Sun.
They and other fix-TABOR advocates haven’t decided what, if anything, they might try and get on the 2020 statewide ballot.
They need encouragement and support.
Colorado has suffered from TABOR long enough. If there’s even a remote possibility we can fix it — then pave the way.
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