I write today in strong opposition to Proposed Ballot Initiative 2019-2020 #295 (Initiative #295), whose titles were set on April 1 by the Colorado Title Setting Board and for which signatures are currently being collected.
Initiative #295 is unofficially captioned “Voter Approval Requirement for Creation of Certain Fee-Based Enterprises.” It purports to simply place TABOR tax restrictions on fee-based enterprises, which were specifically exempted by the original TABOR language approved by Colorado voters in 1992. Legal enterprise funds have rightly remained exempted from TABOR budgetary calculations ever since. In fact, Initiative #295 is just the latest in a long line of failed attempts at the ballot and in the courts to defund our state budget and to deny Coloradans access to essential services like health care, higher education, unemployment compensation, parks & wildlife and so much more.
All 50 state governments in one way or another utilize fees and charges to supplement revenue to provide important services and programs to its residents. While Colorado uses them slightly more than the national average, many states, including four of our neighboring states, use them even more.
However, fee-based enterprise funds are unique to Colorado and are definitively authorized by our state constitution under TABOR. A legal enterprise fund in Colorado is a specific type of “state-owned business,” housed in an existing state agency and run by a state employee. Revenues must come primarily from user fees and only up to 10 percent may come from state and local governments grants combined. Enterprises cannot levy taxes, must provide goods and services in exchange for fees and must have the authority to bond based upon the projected revenue.
Since the passage of TABOR on its third attempt in 1992, Colorado has had no choice but to increasingly rely upon enterprise funds to provide essential goods and services to Coloradans.
We currently have 16 qualified state enterprise funds. Each has a similar story to the following two leading examples. Approximately 70 percent of total enterprise revenues go to supporting higher education. Without these revenues many of our small public colleges and universities, especially those serving rural Colorado, would have closed. Approximately 20 percent of total enterprise revenues go into the “Colorado Healthcare Affordability and Sustainability Enterprise” (hospital provider fee), which is matched by the federal government dollar for dollar and has allowed hundreds of thousands of Coloradans to acquire health insurance. Without these revenues most if not all rural hospitals in Colorado would have closed.
The proponents of Initiative #295 will assuredly claim that they only seek to empower Colorado voters, and they will accuse opponents of not trusting the voters to decide for themselves. Ironically, it is the proponents who display their lack of trust through this poorly worded and confusing initiative that cherry picks certain provisions of TABOR that they just don’t like. In 1992, Colorado voters approved TABOR as a whole package that completely overhauled how we finance state government and specifically excluded fee-based enterprise revenue from TABOR restrictions. As it currently stands alone, Initiative #295 is a slap in the face to Colorado citizens and taxpayers.
If the proponents are serious about reforming how we collect and spend revenue, those of us who follow Colorado’s finances will welcome them to the table. Let’s put it all on the table, including Gallagher, Amendment 23 and, yes, even TABOR itself. Let us work together toward a more equitable and fair revenue model that unleashes the vast potential of private enterprise while offering an overdue hand up to disadvantaged communities.
I respectfully request that you “decline to sign” the petition and if it does make the ballot to please vote "no" on Initiative #295.
Marc Snyder represents House District 18 in the Colorado General Assembly. He previously has served on the Manitou Springs City Council and as the city's mayor.