By: Barry W Poulson
May 5, 2019
Colorado has created a fiscal cliff; the state is woefully unprepared for the revenue shortfall that will accompany the next recession. Citizens might be surprised to learn that the state has been pursuing imprudent policies that will result in a fiscal crisis when the next recession hits. It is important to understand how the fiscal cliff was created and what we can do about it.
Over the past two decades, Colorado has weakened the fiscal constraints imposed by the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights. TABOR limits the rate of growth in state spending to the sum of inflation plus population growth, regardless of the amount of revenue the state takes in.
But most state revenue is exempt from the TABOR limit. The exempt funds include the revenue from enterprises and the fees collected by government agencies, which have grown rapidly over this period. As a result, over the past decade TABOR has not constrained the growth in spending, and this year the state will spend virtually every dollar of revenue it takes in.
The fiscal cliff is also linked to a rapid growth in debt and unfunded liabilities. While limits are imposed on general obligation debt, there are no limits on the issuance of revenue bonds. These are bonds with a dedicated stream of revenue used to pay off the bonds over time. As state enterprises have grown they have saddled the state with greater debt burdens.
Increasing debt is also incurred in the form of unfunded liabilities. Despite the recent reforms enacted in the Public Employees Retirement Association, unfunded liabilities continue to increase. The official estimate of these unfunded liabilities is $32 billion; but with realistic assumptions regarding rates returns on assets, the actual unfunded liabilities are estimated to be in excess of $100 billion. Continue reading
Blog post by Christine Burtt
5/26/2020 – 4 minute read
Let’s face it. You can’t shut down the economy, borrow trillions of dollars to subsidize households and businesses, and cause massive unemployment in the private sector without getting seriously upside down in tax revenues.
The Colorado state budget will be about $3.3B in the hole for FY2021, and that doesn’t include deficits in county and special district budgets.
If Legislatures over the years had honored the requirement of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to stash away an emergency fund, we’d have roughly $1B in cash right now. Instead of a lockbox of cash, illiquid government buildings were determined to be assets counted toward the emergency fund. Anybody have cash to buy a government building? But I digress….
In the Democrat-controlled Colorado Legislature, raising taxes is the easy answer to a budget shortfall. The short-term exercise is to reconcile what is “essential” vs “nice to have.”
In reality, government mandated services like administering food stamps, running elections, law enforcement, infrastructure, and paying public employee retirement benefits will be protected. But other programs funded for ideological wish-lists may be delayed – until they can raise taxes.
The most likely ways to raise taxes include: Continue reading
Public pensions, including PERA, had their worst investment return quarter ever in 1Q20. State pensions, on average, lost 13.2% in the quarter. However, the losses are worse than reported due to secrecy agreements in place regarding their alternative investments position. These highly speculative investments in the PERA portfolio do not have to be reported now. This reality will exacerbate the financial condition of PERA, and other state pensions, and will motivate states, like Colorado, to scream for taxpayer relief. PERA’s funding ratio declined in the very good times (and stock market boom from 2009 to 2019.) The funding ratio will decline even ffurther in the current economic. The coronavirus economy will show that their financial health is now even more problematic. Colorado taxpayers will be the target to bail these pensions out yet again. Taxpayers already contribute more than 2X to PERA than private sector employers contribute to Social Security. For more, see this Forbes analysis:
Edward Siedle Contributor
Public pensions just reported their worst quarterly investment performance in over a decade. Thanks to secrecy agreements, reporting delays and valuation wiggle-room granted to hedge funds, private equity, real estate, infrastructure, venture capital and other private asset managers, the full extent of public pension losses has not been disclosed to pension stakeholders.
Public pensions just reported their worst quarterly investment performance in over a decade. But results related to 25%-50% of their riskiest investments aren’t included. Thanks to secrecy agreements, reporting delays and valuation wiggle-room granted to hedge, private equity, real estate, infrastructure, venture capital and other private asset managers, the full extent of the losses has not been disclosed to pension stakeholders. Complicity with Wall Street allows public pensions to avoid accountability and push bad performance results off until the next quarter, year or even decade.
Vision 2020 Colorado, a coalition behind a tax system overhaul, tells The Sun it will move forward with a graduated income tax measure that will lower taxes for the vast majority
coalition pushing to overhaul Colorado’s tax system will not pursue a complete repeal of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights this year, opting instead for a ballot measure in November that would generate billions in new money with higher taxes on the wealthy.
The new initiative — which is expected to receive final legal approval Wednesday — is designed to create a more equitable tax system in Colorado by lowering the current 4.63% tax rate for households making less than $250,000 a year.
An estimated 95% of taxpayers who are below the threshold would qualify for the tax cut, which would take effect for 2021. For those who make more than $250,000, the additional earnings are taxed at a higher rate up to the maximum of 8.9% for annual taxable income over $1 million.
The organizations behind the ballot question, known collectively as Vision 2020 Colorado, expect the new graduated income tax to generate an estimated $2 billion a year in new money with at least half earmarked to increase teacher salaries and retention. The remainder would be spent at the discretion of state lawmakers.
“We know middle-income Coloradans are paying a greater share of the tax burden than the wealthy 5%, but our tax code isn’t just unfair, it’s inadequate,” said Scott Wasserman, president of the Bell Policy Center, a leading proponent of the measure. The tough decisions made by state lawmakers about how to spend the $30 billion annual budget, he added, are “a purely consequence of our state not having enough money.”
Shelby Meyer passes by The Irish Rover, one of many restaurants and bars now shuttered along South Broadway in Denver on April 14. The coronavirus has caused many businesses to shut their doors during the coronavirus pandemic. Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post
By Peg Brady
Peg Brady is a retired software analyst and designer. She has served on the TABOR Foundation Board of Directors for more than a decade.
The Denver Broncos and Food Bank of the Rockies hosted a mobile pantry at Empower Field at Mile High on April 27 to help people in need during the pandemic. RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post
The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) has provided welcome stability to Coloradans as we all deal with the coronavirus pandemic. This provision of our state constitution allows all governments throughout Colorado an automatic but reasonable annual budget increase. The limits keep governments from growing too fast.
Therefore, when the economy gets into trouble, Colorado state and local governments have a more firm base for their spending and do not need to cut as drastically as other states. Government programs are more sound, strong and sustainable than if they had grown as fast as ambitious politicians often wanted. TABOR helps us to confront the current crisis.
Moreover, just when families and businesses are struggling, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights has led to timely tax relief. The state tax system has evolved so that, when times are good, it over-collects tax revenue. Last year, Colorado over-collected $428 million. TABOR mandates that the state rebates to you excess revenue collected during a fiscal year. So, the 2019 tax rate has been reduced from the usual 4.63% to 4.5% — a 0.13% drop.
You won’t receive a tax refund check; instead, the legislature reduced the income tax rate. Because the rebate is being accomplished through the lower tax rate, you may not recognize how much money you saved. Still, because the state will not incur the cost of issuing and mailing checks, we save that expense as well.
April 7, 2020 by Dan Mitchell
As explained in this short video, a spending cap limits how fast a government’s budget can grow each year.
That being said, not all spending caps are created equal. A fiscal rule that allows continuous increases in the burden of government spending is akin to an excessive speed limit on the road in front of an elementary school.
At a minimum, a spending cap should keep the spending burden constant (relative to the economy’s productive sector). Even better, a spending cap should fulfill the Golden Rule of fiscal policy by slowly but surely reducing the size of government.
Let’s learn from a real-world example.
Ben Wilterdink, a Visiting Fellow with the Alaska Policy Forum, explains for readers of the Peninsula Clarion that the state has a spending cap, but one that is set too high.
Alaska is in the midst of a perfect fiscal storm. …Even before the present crisis, our state faced large budget deficits and tough decisions about how to make ends meet. …That’s why adopting a functional limit on the growth in state spending is essential for long-term economic success. …a functional limit in the growth of state spending decreases the temptation to dramatically increase spending when economic times are good, creating new budget expectations that are difficult to maintain during inevitable economic downturns… Technically, Alaska already has a constitutional spending cap in place, but the formula used renders it basically meaningless. …While Alaskans can’t retroactively adopt a meaningful spending limit, we can ensure that those economic benefits are captured going forward.
So why is a spending cap now an important issue?