Charles L. Heatherly

Charles L. Heatherly

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis recently tried to distract public attention from mounting problems like rising crime rates and continued high unemployment by suggesting the total elimination of the state's income tax. Too many otherwise smart people are giving that proposal premature applause, including some Republicans.

Any serious assessment of the plan must include a close examination of the other half of Polis' proposal, the necessary replacements for the income tax. After all, Polis did not suggest downsizing state government by the over 66% of General Fund revenue that is provided by personal and corporate income tax revenue.

Republicans' principled advocacy of lower income tax rates is understandably coloring their judgment toward Polis' proposal. But in the current political environment with socialists setting the legislative agenda of the General Assembly's Democratic majorities, Republicans should recognize that pursuing Polis' proposal would likely result in a net increase in the total tax burden for most Coloradans, especially the middle class and small businesses.

What is Polis' planned replacement for the over $10-billion lost annually if the state income tax is abolished? Yes, new taxes and fees. But, no worry: the new taxes would only be applied "on things and activities we want to discourage." Wow. Now we can all sleep better. But who are the "we" who will make that judgment about things and activities "we want to discourage"? That would be, well, state lawmakers, the governor and, of course, the bureaucrats who spend the money.

Actually, the Polis proposal is more cynical than sinister. If enough Republicans joined in supporting the "tax replacement plan" for it to be credibly called "bipartisan," then Republican leaders would feel obligated to support the myriad new "social equity" tax and user fee schemes needed to avoid the downsizing of state government programs.

Let's get real. Republicans and all who care about limited government and lower taxes should recognize the socialist character — and, yes, the totalitarian implications — of Polis' elastic second "principle." Is there any elected official in Colorado, red, blue, green, or purple, who thinks Jared Polis and his socialist allies in the legislature have in mind the enactment of a new public finance scheme for a smaller government? Is it possible that they have calculated that while income tax rates are very difficult to raise under TABOR, other kinds of taxes and fees are more easily created, manipulated and raised?

Is it possible that Republican leaders have learned nothing from SB260, the Democrats' successful "transformative" transportation bill in the 2021 session? Many of Colorado's top business leaders and trade groups were seduced into helping pass a bevy of new "user fees" in order to gain enactment of a 10-year transportation plan, which, paradoxically, offers less General Fund investment in roads and bridges over the next decade than was committed in the highway bond-financing mechanism enacted in 2018. Republicans' opposition to SB260 was weak.

Polis envisions an increasingly "progressive" state government with an expanding revenue stream not so much encumbered by TABOR's income tax restraints. If Polis' tax plans were adopted, in place of an already low, flat income tax, Coloradans would be asked to support, applaud and adjust their lives, hopes and dreams to a vast array of new but less visible taxes and user fees. New taxes and fees will be assessed on numerous social and economic "activities" which are deemed less desirable by the purveyors of "social justice," and proud architects of "social equity financing."

Dare we ask, what are those activities Colorado's progressives want to "discourage" through new taxes and expanded user fees? Well, let's count the booby traps, starting with fighting global climate change, advancing "social equity" in myriad social institutions, fighting "systemic racism," and protecting the ever-expanding scope of "public health." Then "things to be discouraged and penalized" will likely include — "excessive" automobile mileage, having babies, natural gas hookups for both commercial enterprises and home appliances, zoning for single-family home construction, fracking, national borders, jail terms for "petty offenses," and free speech that supposedly undermines public confidence in elections. 

Abolish Colorado's flat rate income tax? That is a beautiful Christmas tree ornament. But the gifts under the tree will have very high "deferred payment" tags attached.

Some very cute little devils need to be killed in the crib. This is probably one of them. 

Charles L. Heatherly is former director of policy and strategic initiatives for the Colorado Senate Republican Caucus and former vice president for academic affairs at The Heritage Foundation. He is the coeditor of, "Unmasked 2020: Colorado's radical left turn and a warning to America."

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