EDITORIAL: Rebate grabbers at Colorado Capitol try a new scheme

The Colorado Springs Gazette, Editorial: Rebate grabbers at Colorado Capitol try a new scheme

Originally published by The Colorado Springs Gazette, July 3, 2019

By The Editorial Board

State politicians are scheming to have Gov. Jared Polis call a special session this summer. They need a chance to fix their big problem with Proposition CC.

Prop CC, referred to the ballot by the 2019 Legislature, would gut the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Surveys show TABOR, passed by voters in 1992, is more popular than ever.

Taxpayers like TABOR because voters do not trust politicians on either side of the aisle. They are tired of legislators passing laws that counter their will, such as jobs-killing regulations of oil and gas that voters rejected on the ballot. They are tired of state officials acting broke while the economy generates mountains of surplus cash.

This year, with the booming state economy, TABOR might generate its largest tax rebate in history. Some politicians cannot stand it. They think they know best how best to spend the money. They loathe returning it to the people who earned it.

Their problem with CC: It will almost certainly fail. CC supporters are scrambling for an alternative to get the private sector’s money by some other means.

To sell a net tax increase in disguise, they need a semblance of Republican support. Enter State Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs. He is co-sponsor, with Arapahoe County Sen. Jack Tate, on three special session draft bills shared with The Gazette. They would:

  • Repeal House Bill 1257, which referred Prop CC to the ballot
  • Refer to the ballot a measure for state government to retain TABOR refunds for 10 years, in return for an income tax reduction from 4.63% to 4.59%
  • Require the state treasurer to transfer 40% of retained refunds to the highway users tax fund; 20% to the Colorado expanded learning opportunities cash fund, and 40% to public schools to fund classroom improvements on a “per pupil basis.”

If this gets traction, it means bad optics for Republicans. Without this deal, the politically disastrous Prop CC falls on Democrats. With one special-session compromise, Republicans would seem complicit in TABOR contempt.

In the event they get their special session, legislators and Polis will highlight the tax cut. Polis promised an income tax reduction during his campaign.

They will pitch it as a fair and reasonable compromise. Let the government keep the public’s cash for 10 years, in return for lower taxes. Presumably, a tax cut means more money left in taxpayers’ households.

Be skeptical. Be very, very skeptical.

The Colorado State Legislative Council estimates the first-year refund, which the state would keep, amounts to $575 million. The proposed tax cut, by contrast, would save taxpayers $72.2 million. The first-year balance in favor of state government: $502.8 million, nearly a full retention of the refund.

Over three years, by the council’s estimate, the deal would favor state government by nearly $1 billion. In the simplest terms, the government would keep $8 for a buck in tax cuts.

Taxpayers may see no tax-cut benefit for at least 10 years, as the political class plans new and different ways to feed its insatiable appetite for more of the private sector’s wealth.

We have a friendly suggestion. Have a special session to save yourself embarrassment. Use it to scrap Prop CC. The public loves TABOR. Leave it alone.