At the core of our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) is a simple premise: we trust ourselves to decide when and how to tax us more than we trust a bunch of politicians. Those politicians and champions of big government roundly criticize TABOR for its claimed negative impact on government’s ability to deliver services and the resulting impact on the economy. Indeed, TABOR appears to have crippled our economy, driving it down to the #1 economy in America. Likewise, since we amended our constitution to include TABOR’s protections, our population has grown by 60%, inflation by 78%, and the state budget by an anemic 306%. The legislature’s $32.5 billion budget grows by $1.35 billion of our tax money every year. TABOR used to govern 2/3rds of the state budget. Now, through legislative gimmickry of fees, enterprises, and a game of “a tax by any other name spends as sweetly,” TABOR only governs one-third. The enterprising of the Hospital Provider Fee two years ago allowed the budget to grow by another $600 million every single year…without our consent. Since the great recession, our state’s budget has grown faster than any other in America, except energy-booming North Dakota. And yet, we are told “we must have more.” Enter Proposition CC.
CC is deliberately misleading. It is drafted not to reveal to voters that it seeks to forfeit our (and future generations’) constitutional right to recover our overpaid taxes. Despite CC’s claims of “without raising taxes,” without question, CC increases how much we spend on government. When you pay for a $15 lunch with a $20 bill and the restaurant keeps the difference…your lunch just cost $20. CC keeps the difference between what you legally owe and what you actually overpaid. Every year. For eternity. Maybe the legislature thinks it deserves a big tip. Over the next three years, that tip is projected by the Governor to be $1.7 billion.
CC is a blank check to the legislature. While CC says it will be spent on public education, higher education, transportation, saving puppies, etc, because it is only a statute, not a constitutional amendment, the legislature can change where every penny of that $1.7 billion goes merely by passing a bill as early as next year. House Speaker KC Becker admitted that CC cannot bind future legislatures from doing whatever they want with the money.
Every member of my family is the product of public education, including my four children, all still in public school. I want public schools and teachers to be well-funded and awesome right now. Adjusted for inflation, we spend 20% more on K-12 education than we did in 1990, and yet, teachers get paid 20% less. Huh? Education dollars are increasingly misspent on things outside of the classroom. Only 54% of every Colorado education dollar is spent on instruction. Simply following the lead of Utah and Nebraska, who spend 64%, Colorado would spend an additional $815 million in the classroom and on teachers. Until we do, why would we throw more money at a misguided system?
Colorado fell for that one once before. In 2006, we got suckered into voting for Referendum C, a 5-year suspension of TABOR, to increase funding for higher ed, public education, transportation…sound familiar? Before Ref C, 12.4% of the state’s general fund went to higher ed. During Ref C, that spending ballooned into 9.9%, and has continued to expand to 8.8% currently. Wait, what? If that doesn’t make sense, welcome to the legislative budget shell game. Of course, the promised Ref C money was spent on higher ed, but existing higher ed dollars were then redirected to other pet projects of the legislature. Prop CC allows the legislature to do exactly that same thing to us again. Fool me once…you know the rest.
State government doesn’t suffer from having too few of our dollars. It suffers from a lack of will in prioritizing the wise spending of its exploding budget on our priorities: K-12 education, higher education, and transportation.
Finally, CC is the government’s hand on our knee. If we do not swat it away now, the government will return next year to put its hands all over our TABOR and try to get at even more of our hard-earned dollars. Don’t consent. Keep your constitutional rights. Vote No on Proposition CC.
George Brauchler is district attorney for the 18th Judicial District in Arapahoe County. He is leading the statewide No on CC campaign.