Forbes, Colorado Governor Jared Polis Is Working On A New Plan To Block Tax Relief
Originally published by Forbes, July 2, 2019
By Patrick Gleason
Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) welcomed conservative economist Art Laffer to the state capitol in Denver today to help gin up Republican support for a potential deal intended to avert taxpayer refunds projected to be sent to Colorado taxpayers in the coming year, with Polis’ ultimate goal being the wounding of the nation’s strongest taxpayer protection measure so that it remains in effect by name only and not in practice.
Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), approved by voters in 1992 as an amendment to the state constitution, is the sturdiest taxpayer safeguard in the nation. Under TABOR, state revenue cannot grow faster than the combined rate of population growth and inflation.
Any state revenue collected in excess of the TABOR cap must be refunded to taxpayers. Thanks to healthy state revenue collections coming in above the cap allowed by Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, current projections show the state will have to refund roughly $500 million to Colorado taxpayers next year. That won’t happen if Proposition CC, a measure ending TABOR refunds, is rejected by Colorado voters this November.
In addition to capping the growth of state spending, TABOR requires Governor Polis and state legislators to get permission from voters in order to raise state taxes. While state legislators and previous governors have weakened and wounded TABOR in the past, it remains an incredibly effective tool for preventing a wave of tax hikes and new regulations such as those that residents of other progressive-run blue states like California, New York, and Illinois have endured in recent years.
“TABOR’s restraint on…out-of-control tax and spending habits is the driving factor in attracting business investment and talented people to Colorado,” wrote Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, in a June 28 Denver Post column.
While spending interests in Denver have made weakening or killing TABOR their top priority since it was approved by voters in 1992, TABOR appears as popular as ever with the public.
“Some 27 years after fed-up taxpayers passed TABOR to rein in unchecked government growth without voter consent, they love it even more now than then,” adds Caldara. “According to polling by Baselice and Associates, over 70% of voters support TABOR once it’s been described to them.”
Even champions of Referendum C, the 2005 ballot measure that wounded TABOR by temporarily suspending taxpayer refunds, recognize how misguided Proposition CC is.
“Having served as Governor when Referendum C passed in 2005, I understand the difference between short-term adjustments during funding crises and permanent blank checks that the state government too often wishes it could write itself,” said former Colorado Governor Bill Owens (R). “Proposition CC is the latter, and for the sake of future generations of Colorado taxpayers, I urge voters to reject it in November.”
“I know Proposition CC will do nothing to lower tuition or provide long-term support for our public universities,” said Heidi Ganahl, CU Regent At-Large and co-chair of the No on CC campaign. “It simply creates a slush fund that future politicians in the legislature can spend however they like – and in return voters are expected to permanently give away their refunds.”
In light of the polling numbers and such strong opposition, Governor Polis and Democratic leadership in the state legislature understand that Proposition CC, the measure they referred to the November ballot, is poised to go down in flames this fall. As such, Governor Jared Polis is reportedly planning to call a special session in order to pursue another approach to killing TABOR. Sadly, he’s roping in prominent conservatives to serve to assist him.
“At the heart of this mulligan, allegedly, is a compromise to allow the state government to keep TABOR refunds for ten years and to reduce taxes by .04 percentage points for ten years,” the No On CC campaign stated in a fact sheet released today. “According to estimates, the proposed fix delivers $8 in tax increases for every $1 in tax cuts for the first year, and $5.30 in tax increases for every $1 in tax increases over three years.”
Many longtime Colorado political observers see the push for a special session deal as acknowledgment from Proposition CC proponents that the measure is almost sure to be rejected by Colorado voters this November.
“If this is true, it’s a terrible deal for taxpayers and just another way that government is trying to trick taxpayers,” said Colorado Senator John Cooke (R-Greeley). “People who know they are losing try to cut deals. Democrats and special interests bit off more than they could chew in trying to keep Coloradans’ hard-earned dollars, and, now, they are scraping bottom barrel to find a different way to pickpocket taxpayers. No matter their approach, Coloradans will reject it.”
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, also sees this new maneuver by Governor Polis and allies as a way avoid defeat of Proposition CC and the crushing blow that would deliver to Colorado Democrats.
“Governor Jared Polis and the other progressive leftists from Boulder who currently control Colorado state government know that rejection of Proposition CC, which is likely, would put Colorado voters definitely on record making clear that they want TABOR to stay,” said Norquist. “Since getting rid of TABOR is the top priority for Democratic politicians and others who want to raise taxes in Colorado, having voters render such a verdict in 2019 would be devastating to their plans for higher levels of state spending funded by a a whole host of tax increases.”
Even though Colorado lawmakers concluded their legislative session months ago, they’re still scrambling to devise a plan to collect more of Colorado families’ hard-earned income than current law allows. While Colorado taxpayers enjoy summer cookouts and vacations, it’s a good idea for to still keep an eye on what their state legislators are coming up with in Denver.