Other states envy TABOR

(Denver Post, Feb. 15) How dumb do they think we are? The state is in a $600 million hole because Gov. Bill Ritter and Democratic legislators ignored advice from Republicans – and even some fellow Democrats – to restrain spending and save for a rainy day. Now those same spendthrifts want us to remove constitutional guardrails so they can rev the budget again when good times return. Family budgets are breathing easier, after Ritter and former Speaker Andrew Romanoff got spanked by voters on three tax increases last November – Amendments 51, 58, and 59. But we’re taken for suckers on this too. Dem leader Paul Weissmann already talks of “floating an issue back to the voters” that would goose revenues and gut the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). Meanwhile, a judge has red-flagged the governor for raising property taxes $120 million without taxpayer approval as constitutionally required. The state Supreme Court hasn’t yet ruled on this money grab, but the spending lobby must expect to win. They’re now brazenly planning another evasion of TABOR without citizens’ permission – this time to bust the 6% general fund growth limit. Sue them if you dare.

The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, part of the Colorado constitution since 1992, states that “its preferred interpretation shall reasonably restrain most the growth of government.” That means we the people get the benefit of the doubt. Gov. Ritter, Sen. John Morse and other Democrats, Rep. Don Marostica and other Republicans, are all sworn to support the constitution. Have they forgotten?

They give off an air of casualness toward that oath of office, impatience if not scorn for TABOR and its limitations, and ill-concealed disdain for the millions of Coloradans who don’t know what’s good for us in terms of rosy scenarios, free-wheeling fiscal policy, and a “trust me” approach to government. Their track record forfeits our trust.

“Trust me” became California’s fiscal motto back in the ‘80s, after their voter-approved tax and spending limit was undone by education mandates. (Sound familiar?) The state is now $42 billion in the red and Gov. Schwarzenegger has ordered furloughs. He has wished aloud for something like TABOR to stop the madness.

Taxpayers in many other states share Arnold’s wish, as I recently confirmed with an hour of phoning. Budget analysts from Tempe to Kennebunkport, unless they’ve drunk the big-government Koolaid, endorse the wisdom of a population-plus-inflation growth formula, tempered with flexibility and recession reserves. They say people here should realize how fortunate we are.

“Watch out, Colorado. Without TABOR you could end up like Ohio,” warns David Hansen of the Buckeye Institute in Columbus. He describes a “generation-long spending spree” that has turned their low-tax, high-growth state into one with high taxes and no growth, “totally uncompetitive in the 21st century.”

Reports are similar from neighboring Pennsylvania and distant Arizona. Spending grew twice as fast as population plus inflation in both states since 2002, leaving them today with deficits far worse than Colorado’s. Absent fiscal guardrails, politicians “rode the revenue roller coaster sky-high, then crashed with it,” citizen lobbyist Tom Jenney told me from Phoenix.

TABOR may pass this year in Maine, polls suggest, after Democrats spent recklessly following defeat of a 2006 proposal. Oklahoma fiscal reformers have similar complaints and hopes. Ken Braun of the Mackinac Center observes that spending limits and rainy-day provisions after 1995 would have spared poor Michigan its budget agonies since 2002.

How irresponsible for Colorado’s philosopher kings to propose trading our prudent discipline for these nightmares. Delivered from temptation, a character in Bunyan exclaims: “Then it came burning hot into my mind, whatever he said, and however he flattered, when he got me home to his house, he would sell me for a slave.” Nothing personal, but we should likewise hotly distrust the TABOR-busters.