Editorial: Want to repeal TABOR? We do too, but here’s some realistic advice.
By The Denver Post Editorial Board
Originally published in the Denver Post, June 20, 2019
We’ve always thought a repeal of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights would be prudent. We now know, thanks to a Colorado Supreme Court ruling, that it’s possible; all that remains to be known is if it’s plausible.
Common lore and a dismal record of voter approval for tax increases would indicate that voters in fact like TABOR. When asked to raise taxes, as required under TABOR, voters have said no, consistently.
And lawmakers have been reticent to ask to keep TABOR required tax refunds in recent years, instead, coming up with complicated schemes to keep the money without voter approval – in theory because they know what voters would say.
This summer, the conversation is going to heat up around TABOR, especially given that taxpayer refunds are in the forecast. We’ve got some advice for how opponents of the rigid and restrictive amendment should frame the conversation.
First, we are no longer convinced that the state needs more revenue for the general fund. The state’s economy is booming and thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, revenue from state income tax filings has spiked in Colorado.
How much more revenue are we talking about?
In the 2017-18 fiscal year, the general fund revenue was $11.7 billion and in 2020-21 it’s projected to climb to $13.4 billion. If nothing changes, lawmakers would have to give back about $160 million of that $1.7 billion, four-year increase in the 2020 budget, instead of spending it.
It’ll be tough to argue that the state is hard-pressed for cash, or that it is crippled by TABOR, a year after historic investments were made in k-12 education, roads and higher education.
So, the state needs to be extremely honest with voters about where we would be if lawmakers hadn’t gotten extremely creative in their work-arounds for TABOR.
Because if lawmakers hadn’t responded to the looming TABOR refunds beginning in 2015 with clever accounting tricks, lawmakers would be facing the prospect of giving almost $600 million back to taxpayers in 2020. That’s a crippling sum no matter how well your economy is humming along.
There are two possible routes lawmakers can take to keep more revenue. The first is for outside groups to put a repeal of TABOR on the ballot and to honestly explain all of the clever ways the state has finagled to not comply with TABOR so voters can see how truly unworkable the amendment is in its purest state.
The second, and significantly less institutionally painful way, would be for lawmakers to draft a referendum to send to voters that asks if the state can retain TABOR refunds for the next five years, and explicitly state what the money would be spent on.
Neither of those options will be easy tasks, but we think honoring the spirit of TABOR and asking to keep refunds for a specific purpose is the most plausible route forward.