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
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.”
At a moment when state and local governments are already drowning in red ink, Colorado’s constitution is now projected to trigger the second-largest residential property tax cut in modern history.
Under forecasts presented Tuesday, Colorado lawmakers could be asked to cut residential property taxes by nearly 18% in 2021 to comply with a tax-limiting constitutional provision known as the Gallagher Amendment.
For homeowners, it would mean permanent financial relief at a time of rising unemployment and deep economic uncertainty. But if the cut goes through as projected, it would have cascading effects at nearly every level of government in the state, gashing the budgets of property-tax reliant fire districts, county governments and schools.
The reductions would cut total school district revenue by an estimated $491 million. About half of that gap will impact the state budget, which is constitutionally required to backfill certain school funding shortfalls, even as it faces a fiscal catastrophe of its own as sales and income tax revenue plummet. In one fell swoop, it could wipe out all the recent gains the state had made in erasing its unfunded debt to schools, formerly known as the negative factor. At the county level, statewide revenue could drop by $204 million.
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the $30 billion-plus state budget begins to take shape this week as lawmakers consider massive spending cuts.
How much tax revenue Colorado will lose to the paralyzed economy remains uncertain, but the governor’s budget office is projecting $3 billion in lost revenue for the current fiscal year and the next.
The General Assembly’s budget writers on Monday will start reviewing recommendations from legislative analysts for potential spending cuts across all government agencies. The documents are expected to include scenarios for slashing budgets as much as 20% and force legislators to make hard choices that will impact most Colorado families, according to drafts reviewed by The Colorado Sun.
“Truth and reason in ballot language!”
The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights includes good government provisions that improve election procedures.
There was a time when Colorado elected officials could push for passage of a bond, or for new taxes, but bury the cost very deep into the explanation on the ballot, in hopes that many voters might not notice the magnitude of the tax.
The ballot language would promise all kinds of wonderful outcomes. Not only would the new revenues for the government solve the problem in perpetuity, but it would bring world peace and even make the voter more handsome! Then, near the end in the midst of a lot of other promises, would come the information that the cost to the taxpayer would be very, very high.
The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights stopped that sort of game playing. Now, the government must put the cost right up front. It has no option but to state how much the new tax will weigh annually on the taxpayer. For a new bond, the ballot measure must state at the very beginning how much the total new debt will be and what that means for the total repayment cost. Only then may the government (“district”) present its reasons for the new taxes.
Another game that the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights anticipated and which it explicitly prohibits is a government underestimating a revenue number. If the new taxes exceed the estimate, the entirety of the overage must be refunded the next year and the rate adjusted downward.
Colorado constitution (Article X, Section 20), paragraph 3(c) states: “Ballot titles shall begin, ‘SHALL (DISTRICT) TAXES BE INCREASED ____ ANNUALLY?’ (or) ‘SHALL (DISTRICT) DEBT BE INCREASED (principal amount) WITH A REPAYMENT COST OF (maximum..)’.” Earlier in the same paragraph is the requirement that “if a tax increase exceeds any estimate… for the same fiscal year, the tax increase is thereafter reduced up to 100% in proportion to the …excess, and the combined excess revenue refunded….”
The paragraph was carefully crafted as a good government improvement, with TABOR protecting the taxpayer in ways beyond just voting on tax rates.
Here’s a good tool to better understand our state budget. It’s much more accessible than what’s been previously available from the state.
If you’re looking for something to read while #socialdistancing, we’ve launched a tool to help you understand the Colorado Budget! Find simple explanations on where revenue comes from, how taxes are spent, TABOR, school financing, and much more!