Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR)

The Axiom Report by Paul Swansen

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) is a concept advocated by conservative and free market libertarian groups. TABOR is promoted as a way of limiting the growth of government. It is not a charter of rights but a provision requiring that increases in overall tax revenue be tied to inflation and population increases unless larger increases are approved by referendum.

Colorado has the most well known instance of TABOR legislation. In 1992, the voters of Colorado approved a measure which amended Article X of the Colorado Constitution that restricts revenues for all levels of government including state, local, and schools. Under TABOR, state and local governments can’t raise tax rates without voter approval. Those same state and local governments can’t spend revenues collected under existing tax rates if revenues grow faster than the rate of inflation and population growth, without voter approval. Revenues in excess of the TABOR limit, also known as a “TABOR surplus,” must be refunded to taxpayers, unless voters approve a revenue change as an offset in a referendum.

In November of 2005, after a bitter political fight, Colorado voters approved Referendum C, a ballot measure that loosened many of TABOR’s restrictions. Referendum C allowed the state to retain and spend money from existing revenue sources above the TABOR limit each year beginning in Fiscal Year (FY) 2005-06. Colorado was allowed to spend all revenue subject to TABOR for five years through FY 2009-10. Then beginning in FY 2010-11, the state was allowed to spend revenue above the TABOR limit up to a capped amount known as the “Referendum C cap. The Referendum C cap grows from the prior year’s cap instead of the prior year’s spending by inflation plus population growth.

What our elected officials loathe about TABOR is that it makes them ask the voters of the state how much government they want. It makes our government bureaucrats and elected officials those who work for us, the electorate.

Our government bureaucrats and elected officials complain about spending limits, (see also our Congressional Representatives) and yet there is not one limitation in TABOR that can’t be removed. If our politicians want to spend more, they must ask the people who elected them to serve, for that ability, and that’s the entire point of TABOR. It allows the voters to determine the size and scope of the government they fund.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is looking for a long-term effort to address Colorado’s fiscal issues. Hickenlooper is looking to the group, To Be Determined (TBD) for recommendations. TBD Colorado met with 1,200 residents during 70 public meetings in Colorado to come up with a series of recommendations.

Current advocacy groups supporting the principles of TABOR are Americans for Prosperityand Americans for Limited Government.

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