OK, I have to ask: are you confused yet about what’s going on regarding Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, better known these days as TABOR?
So am I, though the chances of getting rid of this legal boondoggle look better than they have in more than a quarter-century.
The TABOR amendment, when it was conceived (or hatched) was a ballot question proposed by a slumlord in Colorado Springs named Douglas Bruce, who was hoping to get the state off his back and out of his wallet over landlord-tenant hassles and figured the best way to do so would be to squeeze the flow of funds to the state’s coffers.
Bruce, a transplant from California in the 1970s, was an attorney and owner of numerous rental properties in both states. The coda to his real estate shenanigans came when he was convicted in 2011 on tax fraud and other charges, and in 2012 he served a few months in jail and was fined nearly $50,000.
The TABOR proposal was passed by the state’s voters in 1992 after a suspiciously vague and somewhat dishonest election campaign that championed political conservatives’ favorite cause of limiting state government’s ability to raise taxes and spend more money each year, despite the growth of the state’s population, but little else about the effects of passing this ill-conceived law.
Most importantly, little was offered at the time about the more pernicious component of the bill, known as the “ratchet-down effect,” which effectively resulted in the most severe revenue/spending limitations in the United States and has seriously reduced funding for education, transportation, health care and just about everything the state is normally expected to support on the public’s behalf.
In its impact, the TABOR amendment has been a little like President Donald Trump’s so-called Tax Cut and Jobs Act, a 2017 trillion-dollar-plus tax giveaway mostly to the wealthy class and corporations. Trump’s tax law was intended to accomplish two goals — give the president’s rich buddies a massive tax break, and strangle the ability of the federal government to do its job over the next decade or so by wiping out a huge chunk of the government’s revenue, just like the Bruce amendment did for Colorado.
To recap recent developments regarding TABOR, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has been nosing around the idea that the law should be repealed, or in some way limited in its ability to maintain its stranglehold on the state’s finances.
And the Colorado Supreme Court recently agreed that a voter initiative designed to rescind TABOR could legally proceed, thereby opening the door to an effort to reverse 27 years of revenue restrictions.
At the same time, state budgetary officials are estimating that Colorado is on track to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue exceeding the TABOR limits, according to news reports, which could translate to tax refunds for Coloradans, and perhaps even a reduction in the state’s tax rates.
According to state estimates, that could mean that for a resident earning, say, $50,000 a year, the refund might be in the neighborhood of $50 to $65.
I should point out that this new forecast, which came to light last week, is a far cry from forecasts made in March of this year, when the state predicted it would not be collecting any amount of revenue over the TABOR limits.
Coloradans have not gotten a TABOR-related refund since 2015, and at that time the average refunds ranged from $13 to $41 per taxpayer.
As things now stand, a nascent campaign by the Denver-based Colorado Fiscal Institute, said to be a liberal-leaning organization, is underway in the form of a petition drive to obtain 124,000 signatures and put the measure on the 2020 statewide ballot.
For my money, this is a good idea. The state has long labored under the yoke of Douglas Bruce, who ran two unsuccessful campaigns to get a seat in the state Senate and got to serve about half a term in the state House after an interim appointment in 2007.
His legislative tenure was marked by legislative and physical violence, during which he earned the dubious distinction of being the first legislator in Colorado history who was formally censured, after he kicked a newspaper reporter on his first day in office. He was not elected to serve a full term.
The guy, in other words, has been a stain on the state’s political landscape, and we would do well to eliminate his signature legislative act immediately.
If we need to act in the future to trim the state’s thirst for tax dollars, it can be done with an honest and open campaign that features comprehensive explanations of the benefits and hazards of revenue restrictions.
And Douglas Bruce can be forgotten.
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