Two Colorado Republican lawmakers are delivering on their promise from earlier this year to fine-tune TABOR, a 25-year-old constitutional restriction on how much the state can receive — and spend — without triggering tax refunds.
Rep. Dan Thurlow and Sen. Larry Crowder have introduced House Bill 17-1187 that seeks to change the way annual revenue limits set by the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights are calculated.
It’s a first step that could allow the state to keep millions of dollars for roads, education and other priorities, starting with an extra $175 million in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, according to legislative analysts.
Thurlow, of Grand Junction, and Crowder, of Alamosa, have asked: What’s the use of individual taxpayer refunds amounting to pocket change when, this year alone, lawmakers must close a $500 million gap to balance the budget that begins July 1?
“I believe our party is the party of solutions and this bill is an example of that,” Thurlow said Monday.
That reasoning runs against longstanding party orthodoxy — reinforced by intense lobbying by Americans for Prosperity — to defend the limits of the 1992 amendment at all costs.
While the bill might pass the Democrat-led House, it faces a tougher run in a GOP-led Senate that has resisted exempting revenue sources, such as a multimillion-dollar fee paid by hospitals, from the limits.
In 2005, voters approved annual adjustments to the revenue cap based on rates of inflation and population growth. The bill being heard Monday by the House Finance Committee would use changes in Coloradans’ personal income to do make adjustments.
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports Coloradans’ per capita personal income rose from $41,877 in 2010 to $50,410 in 2015, or nearly 17 percent.
Under current budget projections, mandated taxpayer refunds would total $280 million and $287 million in fiscal years 2017-18 and 2018-19, respectively.
The original intent of the amendment was two-fold, Crowder said in a recent newsletter.
“First, the citizens wanted a constraint on the growth of government,” he said. “Secondly, we wanted to be able to vote on tax rate increases.
“Has it worked? As a constraint on government, it has worked on overdrive.”
Crowder said Colorado has:
—Gone from 23rd to 40th among states in per-pupil K-12 spending;
—Ranks 45th among states in high school graduation rates;
—Ranks 48th among states in higher education spending.