Colorado voters need facts not propaganda and fiction to help decide Proposition CC.
I’m not talking about spin. This is politics. Both sides of the ballot measure that targets changing Colorado’s unique tax law are putting their best spin on arguments for and against Prop CC.
The truth is, life in Colorado won’t be perfect if it passes, and it won’t end if it fails.
What I’m talking about goes beyond the hyperbole. It’s stuff that is just plain wrong.
Like this fiction that comes from an entertaining argument against Prop CC from 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler. He recently penned a guest column in The Sentinel that offered this false metaphor for how Prop CC would work.
“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” Brauchler wrote. He and others have related similar metaphors for weeks now. “Maybe the legislature thinks it deserves a big tip.”
If you don’t know how the state law works, you might fall for a story that sounds like stealing.
The accurate metaphor is this. Current law forces the restaurant to operate at a certain margin of profit every year. If, at the end of the year, the government determined the restaurant you had lunch at had exceeded its profit limit, it would force the restaurant to return a portion of those excess profits to you. It would probably refund less than a couple of pennies on your $15 lunch.
Telling people the government is stealing from taxpayers is political histrionics. There is no theft.
Here are the facts.
Colorado lives under a self-imposed state constitutional amendment commonly referred to as “TABOR” or the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. The man who invented it, Douglas Bruce, named it that. Voters approved it in 1992. Because it’s an amendment to the state constitution, only voters can change or repeal it.
That’s why voters must decide Prop CC, which was proposed by Democratic state legislators this year.
They aren’t the only ones who want to see TABOR changed. If you want a long list of prominent Republicans who have been wholly or partially dissatisfied with TABOR over the years, call me. I can tell you about many Republicans who’ve pointed out its problems. People like former Congressman Mike Coffman. People like former Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan and long list of local and state conservative lawmakers who had one issue or another with the amendment.
At its core, TABOR does two things. It forces all governments to ask voters to create new taxes or raise existing tax rates. That’s what most people like about it, and that’s pretty easy to understand.
Proposition CC would not change that part of TABOR. If anyone tells you that, they’re wrong or lying.
The other part of TABOR essentially caps state spending by limiting how much the state government can collect. This is the part that causes problems for a lot of conservatives who understand how government actually works.
Anything Colorado collects above this formula-driven limit must be given to Colorado taxpayers, even if those taxes came from tourists or businesses.
For the most part, these refunds only happen when the state economy is healthy, like now. We’re talking refund checks from about $20-$60, depending on your income level.
TABOR proponents argue that this complex capping formula sets just the right amount of spending Colorado needs to operate as it should. Critics of TABOR say, that because of Colorado’s up-and-down economic cycles, the state can never get ahead on big-ticket items like roads and schools. Those expenditures get cut in lean years, and TABOR refunds prevent needed catch-up spending in good years.
TABOR critics say the proof of all that is the state’s crappy, inadequate roads and underfunded schools. TABOR proponents say the crappy roads are a result of spending too much money on something else, i.e. Medicaid.
I’m old. I’ve been professionally watching all of this for a long time. I can tell you, truthfully, that whether Republicans or Democrats are in charge of the state government, it’s looked pretty much the same when it comes to spending priorities. Sure, there are factions on the right that would make draconian cuts to schools and social programs to build more roads. There are groups on the far left that would raise the hell out of your taxes and hire private tutors for every struggling student in the state. In the end, the spending values pendulum has swung very little in the 60 years I’ve been here. Roads, education and healthcare have long prevailed on the “long bill.”
Don’t trust anyone who says the state has plenty of money. That’s a lie. There may be waste. And there may be differences in spending values. But there is no largess, and voting for Prop CC won’t create one. Voting against Prop CC won’t force state lawmakers to defund Medicaid. Only your votes for like-minded legislators can do that.
So tune out the drama, even though there’s plenty of it.
“This is a rehearsal for future efforts to repeal TABOR,” said Conservative activist Michael Fields, the other face of the “No on CC” campaign. Fields is executive director of Colorado Rising Action. He made those comments in a recent AP story by Jim Anderson. “The one thing standing in the way of those who want to grow government are the taxpayers. Most Coloradans don’t like having their power over taxes curbed.”
Maybe. But the question right now is whether to remove the formula spending cap for Colorado while the economy is good and use those already-collected tax dollars for roads and schools. Voters still get to decide on any new or increased taxes.
Maybe Fields’ fear is justified. It could be that voters don’t want to be bothered with tax questions on their ballots. They might, instead, want to delegate that to the people they elect and pay to make those decisions, like in other states.
That’s not the question on the ballot this year.
If you vote “yes,” there will be more money for roads and schools, and no $20-$60 refund. If you vote “no,” you’ll get your refund, but the state won’t get that money for roads and schools.
Follow @EditorDavePerry on Twitter or Facebook, or reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]