Republicans who backed TABOR timeout say new request is a bad idea
By Anna Staver
Originally published in the Denver Post, June 12, 2019
The first time lawmakers asked Colorado voters to give up their TABOR tax refunds, former Republican Gov. Bill Owens fought hard to make sure it passed — arguably forfeiting a promising political future in the process.
Now, he’s taking the opposite position.
Owens has joined forces with other prominent Colorado Republicans to oppose a ballot question this November that would permanently end the statewide TABOR tax refund.
“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,” Owens said in a statement. “Proposition CC is the latter, and for the sake of future generations of Colorado taxpayers, I urge voters to reject it in November.”
The group Owens joined as an advisory board member is called the No on CC campaign, and its list of co-chairs includes former State Treasurers Walker Stapleton and Mark Hillman and 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler. Their goal is to convince voters that this request is different from the temporary TABOR refund timeout passed in 2005 because it’s permanent and because Colorado isn’t facing steep budget cuts from a recession.
Proposition CC asks voters to unwind part of a constitutional amendment called the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. The amendment changed how Colorado governments work in two important ways: It gave people the right to vote on all proposed tax increases, and it mandated that any money governments collected above a certain amount be refunded.
The question that will come before voters this fall is whether to give up those refunds forever.
“We’re not asking voters to increase taxes,” House Speaker KC Becker, a Boulder Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors, said back in March. “We’re saying we can make good investments with the money you are already sending us, whatever that may be.”
She didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Owens isn’t the only Republican who supported the 2005 timeout but opposes the 2019 version. Former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown is also on the new campaign’s advisory board. Brown was the University of Colorado president back in 2005 and warned voters that higher education could lose all its public dollars if the 2005 measure didn’t pass.
“Ref C came at a time where we had a recession and a dramatic drop in funding for state projects. I think the Taxpayer Bill of Rights would have been in danger without it,” Brown told The Denver Post. “The financial crisis was so severe, but that’s not the case now.”
The other problem Brown has with the 2019 question is it doesn’t spell out where the money goes. Lawmakers instead passed a separate bill directing the state to spend those dollars on public schools, transportation and higher education in equal amounts. They could change the allocations whenever they want.
“With Ref C the promise was that a third of the money or more would go to higher education, and that never happened. The legislature simply didn’t do it,” Brown said. “I’d say we’ve heard it before, and it didn’t work out that way.”