Nebraska needs the Colorado cure

(John Andrews in Omaha World-Herald, Oct. 25) As a Colorado leader with many Nebraska friends (we don't discuss football), I'd like to see Nebraska have the kind of thriving economy my state has. That's why I hope Nebraskans in this election will restrain taxes and spending with fiscal guardrails, as Coloradans did years ago. The possibility that Nebraska will pass Initiative 423, the Stop Over Spending amendment, is welcome news to me, unlike the Big 12 Conference football standings. The SOS plan to slow the runaway growth of government can help restore healthy growth to Nebraska's lagging economy. It worked for us in the high country, so why not for Nebraskans on the Plains as well?

This taxpayer advocate objects to the distortion of our Colorado success story that was foisted on World-Herald readers last month by big-government cheerleader Deb Crago ("Critical state services suffered under Colorado state budget lid," Sept. 28 Midlands Voices). Her phony scare propaganda deserves a rebuttal from the perspective of working families.

Ms. Crago and her friends in the spending lobby understandably dislike our state's version of the SOS amendment, a constitutional provision called the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. But my neighbors would tell you they like it fine. The amendment has been great for prosperity and quality of life in Colorado ever since voters passed it in 1992.

Back then, my neighbors were tired of the broken promises of politicians. They were fed up with a bloated budget and a sluggish economy - which may sound familiar in Nebraska today - so they did just what Nebraska is seeking to do. Citizens used the petition process to bypass political insiders and change things for the better.

It was a good decision. Over the years, our amendment has paid dividends in Colorado for job creation, family finances, leaner government and lower taxes. Its fiscal restraint has provided backbone when office-holders felt tempted. Its flexibility has allowed overrides when special needs arose. I can see Nebraska's SOS plan, Initiative 423, delivering all the same benefits.

Similar to Colorado's amendment and actually better drafted, SOS is quite simple. It would limit each year's increase of state spending to the sum of inflation and population growth. Any revenue above the limit goes first into a rainy-day fund and then becomes available for tax rebates unless voters approve spending it. That's common sense all the way, so what can Ms. Crago object to?

Apparently, she and other opponents, believing bigger government means a better life, resent the $3 billion in tax refunds paid out to hard-working Coloradans since the 1990s because of our amendment. They must deplore the additional $500 million in permanent tax cuts, passed by the Legislature to avoid collecting revenues we couldn't constitutionally keep. They miss the good old days of runaway spending. It has grown at only the rate of inflation and population since 1992 after growing at twice that pace in the decade before.

But have opponents no compassion for Nebraska's anemic economy and population outflow, young workers and retirees alike, worsened by bad public policy? My state, having gotten the public policy right, now ranks at or near the top in nearly every index of economic vitality and business climate.

Colorado's gross state product per capita expanded 20 percent faster than the national average in the decade after voters installed our amendment. During the 2001 recession, it was weak revenues - not our constitutional spending limit, as critics falsely imply - that pinched highways and higher education. With revenues strong again, voters in 2005 used the flexibility of our amendment to approve higher spending through 2011 so those areas can catch up.

And if Nebraskans want clinching proof of Colorado's attractiveness with fiscal guardrails in the budget, consider our booming population growth. When the spending lobby in Maine warned of "devastation" in my state, I replied that our more than 1 million new residents since 1992 top Maine's entire population. Some devastation.

Initiative 423, the Stop Over Spending amendment, could start to turn things around in Nebraska. The politicians and lobbyists hope Nebraskans don't pass it. I hope they do.