Backers of a November ballot measure to let the state put more tax money into education and transportation rather than refund it to taxpayers gathered in a student center on the Auraria Campus in Denver on Wednesday to kick off the Yes on Prop CC campaign.
"This is really important for the future of Colorado," said Dan Ritchie, the University of Denver's chancellor emeritus. "This is not just something that's nice. This is something that's needed."
In just over a month, with Proposition CC on the Nov. 5 ballot, voters will decide whether to give up their future tax refunds from the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights to steer millions — at least in prosperous years — into K-12 schools, higher education and transportation.
TABOR, as the state constitutional amendment is called, puts a cap of government spending, based on a formula of inflation and population growth, then directs the state to return money to taxpayers when income is higher than the cap.
This year, in booming economic times, the state brought in $310 million above the cap and expect to surpass it by $342 million next year, according to the Colorado Legislative Council, the nonpartisan arm of the General Assembly that researches the impact of proposed laws.
Opponents of undermining TABOR characterize it as a con job, by saying it's not a tax increase if you keep part of people's tax refund.
“What the proponents won’t tell you is that this is a huge tax increase," said Michael Fields, the executive director of the conservative advocacy group Colorado Rising Action and a former leader with Americans for Prosperity.
"It’s also a blank check — with no guarantee where the money will be spent," Fields added. "The legislature should prioritize fixing our roads without taking away our TABOR tax refunds forever.”
Though a handful of Republicans are supporting passage of Proposition CC, such as state Sen. Kevin Priola of Henderson, some of the state's best-known Republicans are aligned against it, promising the next month could turn into a partisan battle.
The No on CC campaign is led by former Gov. Bill Owens, former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, and Colorado House Republican leader Patrick Neville, as well as University of Colorado Regent At-Large Heidi Ganahl, 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, and former state treasurers Walker Stapleton and Mark Hillman.
Gov. Jared Polis led a host of speakers at the kickoff event Wednesday.
"With support from voters, Prop CC will finally allow the state to begin fixing things," Polis said to applause. "If you're frustrated about traffic and your commute and potholes, vote yes on CC.
"If you're tired of kids getting shortchanged in schools, vote yes on CC. If you're tired of the cost of community college and college getting farther and farther out of reach, vote yes on CC."
Ritchie, a former communications-industry executive, said Proposition CC was a step in the right direction.
"The question is really simple: Are we willing to give up our small temporary refunds to fund some things that really need it in this state?" he said.
But education and transportation requests to taxpayers have consistently failed on the statewide ballot for years.
"We're really determined we're gong to win this one," Ritchie said.
On Monday, the Denver City Council declared its support for Proposition CC. The resolution passed by the council states that the TABOR cap, along with “overlapping constitutional amendments” has “hindered the ability of the state legislature formulate an equitable budget.”
The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce also backs Prop CC.
No on CC coalition member Amy Cooke, senior vice president at the conservative Independence Institute in Denver, said voters should think it through.
“Despite the best efforts of proponents that this is not a tax increase, it is in fact a tax increase in perpetuity as we are voting to forever give up on our tax refunds that Colorado’s taxpayers are constitutionally entitled to receive," she said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
"Even worse, we are voting to forfeit our ability to regulate the size and scope of our government. Without the teeth of tax refunds, TABOR is essentially neutered.”
Rachel Riley of The Gazette contributed.