The Taxpayer's Bill of Rights is under attack. For at least a decade, Democrats in the Colorado legislature — backed by the Colorado Supreme Court in erroneous rulings and occasionally supported by faithless Republicans — have thwarted some of the protections afforded to Coloradans by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.
Typically, these successful assaults against TABOR have come from taxes disguised as “fees.” In fact, this past legislative session Democrats even proposed financing a paid family leave program with a payroll tax (like the Social Security tax) that they would again have labeled a “fee.” (This legislation is likely to return next session.)
But this year’s attack — Proposition CC, put on the ballot by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly and backed by Gov. Jared Polis (D) — is particularly troublesome. Recall that the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights was passed in 1992 and provides two essential protections for Coloradans. First, the amendment requires a vote of the people to raise taxes (unless legislators call it a “fee,” as discussed).
Second, it limits state and local governments’ ability to “spend revenues collected under existing tax rates if revenues grow faster than the rate of inflation and population growth, without voter approval.” If revenues exceed these limits, taxpayers will receive a refund according to a complex formula.
CC is the Democratic legislature’s attempt to get voter approval to breach those spending limits into perpetuity. As in, forever. It’s a constitutional tactic, but pernicious.
The name “CC” is appropriate, as it literally doubles down on Referendum C of 2005, which lifted TABOR’s spending caps for five years. Many CC opponents have eloquently made the case against it, including here in Colorado Politics. But it’s worth taking time to explore why the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights itself — in its entirety — is critical to Colorado’s future.
I write this as a 29-year-old Millennial who is eager to preserve Colorado as a prosperous state offering tremendous opportunities for all Coloradans for years to come. With that in mind, there are are three main reasons why the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights is worth defending.
First, legislators must come on bended knee to ask the people of Colorado for our blessing on both raising taxes and overriding spending caps. TABOR is unique nationally because it asserts that, in Colorado’s republican form of government, We the People are a check and balance on the state legislature. If the people don’t want to be taxed more, and/or don’t want the state to expend more than the outrageous spending growth we’ve already endured, then the people get to offer that check and balance.
TABOR clarifies power to the people of Colorado, fitting with the “deeply independent” tradition of the Westerners who framed Colorado’s Constitution. And it underscores why we have a state-based initiative and amendment process in the first place: because Coloradans want to have our say in the decisions of government.
By the way — this is a liberating virtue worth preserving into perpetuity, not a constrictive vice worthy of elimination. After all, what is the purpose of any limited government if not to represent and protect the interests, well-being and rights of the people?
Second, the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights helps maximize prosperity for all Coloradans. When government takes our hard-earned money by taxing it more, that means there is less money in Coloradans’ pockets to spend on our own needs and wants, or to invest in businesses or launch our own enterprises.
Similarly, when government spends more of our money, it crowds out the private sector and inhibits the part of the economy where genuine job creation and opportunity generation take place. By capping spending increases, we constrain the manipulative schemes of politicians.
Third, TABOR promotes accountable government. When elected officials have to ask their constituents for permission to do something — anything — then they are more responsive to our needs and wishes. And it’s easier to account for the money they take from taxpayers — you and me — when the coffers aren’t overflowing.
The bottom line is this: The Taxpayer's Bill of Rights safeguards the power of all Coloradans to protect their future and their family’s future. Not only must we secure the letter of the Constitution, but we must not let government write a blank check forever.
Jimmy Sengenberger is the host of Business for Breakfast on KDMT Denver’s Money Talk 1690 AM and The Jimmy Sengenberger Show on News/Talk 710 KNUS. He is the President and CEO of the Denver-based Millennial Policy Center.