This year’s defeat of Proposition CC was a bitter experience for the state’s Democrats and liberal groups, but apparently not a didactic one, at least for the latter. Proposals are already in the works for some new iterations of the ubiquitous tax-increase ballot measures which crop up every second election or so, just to see if perseverance will ultimately win out over fiscal literacy.
Most of the proposals are conjured up by groups like the leftist Colorado Fiscal Institute, which houses some presumably very bright people whose economic analysis nevertheless boils down invariably to tugging on the General Assembly’s sleeve and pointing at someone else’s wallet.
Carol Hedges, executive director of CFI, said in an interview in some other publication that “what I took away from Prop. CC was that was not the solution.” Clearly. She goes on to say “that solution didn’t address the concerns of folks who voted in the election, and we have an obligation to solve those problems.”
What problems are those, exactly? What Coloradans said last November was, essentially, “look, we’ve already given you $30-some-odd-billion to fix roads, pay for schools, and provide cops and courts — take care of that, and if you want more for something else after that, THEN we can talk, but don’t hold your breath.”
Hedges' implication in her opaque answer, of course, is that Coloradans really do want the state to take more of their money, they just want to be asked the right way.
At last count, our friends had cooked up some 35 different ballot ideas. This doesn’t mean that 35 new tax hike proposals will be presented to Coloradans on a ballot in the near future; its mainly an exercise in throwing a bunch of them at the wall and seeing what sticks.
It’s too early to tell what exactly will be left clinging to the wall when all is said and done, but one feature that seems to dominate is the dogged pursuit of the high-income earner.
A recurrent theme in the proposals is some need to have some iteration of a statement about how Colorado taxpayers are “entitled to a fair and just tax system” tattooed into the state constitution. Insofar as that goes, and in a world where words still meant something, that would be fine; Colorado already has a flat income tax, which is as “fair and just” as income taxes can get.
Alas, the implication here is more Orwellian. Several light-years away from the concept of equality of treatment, the phrase is not intended to convey the idea that those who earn more money should pay “more taxes” — they should and they do — but that they should pay a higher percentage of their income, a concept that invites all manner of economic mischief. F.A. Hayek a long time ago was prescient enough to describe redistribution through progressive taxation as “the chief source of irresponsibility of democratic action.”
Beyond inviting a nearly infinite number of individuations into the tax code, tax progressivity has long been recognized as economically ineffective; marginal tax increases — taxing the next dollar — dissuade productivity and growth like few other mechanisms can. But the “tax the rich” mantra that is currently, again, en vogue, is not about economic efficiency, but political theater, its bumper sticker over-simplicity as appealing as it is absurd.
For their part, it appears many state Democrats may be somewhat more circumspect over the CC loss than their activist allies. As philosophically sympathetic as they may be to dismantling TABOR, getting taxpayers to cough up more of their income, and instituting a progressive tax, most are acutely aware of the reality of what Colorado taxpayers communicated last election (and several before that). But there is a problem — the government is overspending.
The state Democrats are in something of a bind this year, one not unfamiliar to governing parties. On one hand, virtually all of their key proposals are coming in more expensive than advertised — all-day kindergarten, climate proposals, family leave, re-insurance, the public option, etc. On the other hand, voters have told them they will not give them any more money until they take care of their main jobs — transportation, education, public safety.
CFI’s eagerness to go on a taxation offensive is not helpful to the situation. Whichever of their proposals make the cut, they will only encourage lawmakers to put off prioritization, and inject convolution into a tax system that cries out for simplification. They muddy the view, and blurred vision is the enemy of responsible self-government.
Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and a recovering journalist based in Denver.