Like HAL 9000, TABOR’s programming overrides will of voters

We disagree.  TABOR is the will of the voters.

What do you expect from Carol Hedge’s party when they can’t tax, tax, and tax some more so they can spend, spend, spend until Daddy takes the T-Bird away…. TABOR only says you can’t raise taxes without the voters approving the tax.


Like HAL 9000, TABOR’s programming overrides will of voters

By Carol Hedges
Guest Commentary

HAL 9000, the mellow-voiced but malevolent-minded computer from "2001: A Space Odyssey." (Thinkstock)

HAL 9000, the mellow-voiced but malevolent-minded computer from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” (Thinkstock)

The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR as most Coloradans know it, is frequently acclaimed as carrying out the will of voters. But as recent events show, it’s doing the opposite.

Would Colorado voters really have approved TABOR in 1992 if they had known it could prevent their communities from accepting state emergency funds after natural disasters like wildfires and floods? Would they have voted for TABOR if they’d known that it could unexpectedly cut taxes on marijuana that voters had overwhelmingly approved in two elections?

Rather than being a tool used to express the people’s will, TABOR works more like a computer with a mind of its own that carries out its preprogrammed mission automatically, oblivious to voters and to their elected officials.

We now have a new political structure – the HAL 9000 form of governance, modeled after the mellow-voiced but malevolent-minded computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Many Coloradans know TABOR mandates tax elections. But it does so much more.

“I have to tell you, quite honestly, the more I learn about TABOR, particularly what it did with the floods in our counties, the less and less I like TABOR, and the more insidious I think it has been to state government,” state Rep. Cheri Gerou, a Republican from Evergreen who sits on the Joint Budget Committee, said during a hearing recently.

Gerou’s frustration with TABOR came after communities in her legislative district endured floods and wildfires. These cities and counties needed immediate relief to rebuild roads, schools, water treatment facilities and other infrastructure for public well-being and safety. But TABOR, which allows for spending of reserves in “emergencies,” does not actually define what an “emergency” is, only what emergencies aren’t.

Nor does the government-constraining amendment explicitly say that communities can accept grants to rebuild without that money exceeding local TABOR revenue limits. Cities and counties, worried about breaking the law, are so exasperated by the situation, they have asked lawmakers to clarify some of the issues through legislation and refer a constitutional amendment to voters to fix other problems.

Those efforts are pending, but lawmakers themselves are already wrestling with another TABOR programming gremlin: Will they have to eliminate, if only temporarily, the taxes on recreational marijuana that voters just approved months earlier?

Let’s remember something: Those taxes passed with 65.2 percent of the vote statewide, 11 points more than TABOR got in 1992. And the November vote came after Coloradans the year before passed Amendment 64, which legalized pot and allowed for its taxation, with 55 percent of the vote.

But the HAL 9000 in the state constitution has another plan for those taxes. Its programming requires that when a proposed tax increase is put on the ballot, state economists estimate not only how much they think the new taxes will bring in but also how much total revenue the state would have without the new taxes.

In the case of pot, the most recent analysis shows that legal weed is not actually generating as much in taxes as had been projected. However, total revenues are still higher than economists first predicted before the pot taxes passed. That’s because the economy is recovering faster than expected.

Still, lawyers for the legislature are saying TABOR will require that pot taxes be refunded even though they did not exceed revenue projections; it’s the economy that’s prompting rebates. The scenario being discussed is reducing the pot taxes for a year, possibly to zero, as a refund.

So, even though nearly two-thirds of voters thought they were approving taxes on pot to generate money for school construction and law enforcement, they may have to sit by and watch as TABOR automatically forces a tax cut on them.

In other words, HAL will not open the pod bay doors, despite our repeated commands. Have a nice day, Dave.

Carol Hedges is executive director of the Colorado Fiscal Institute.

Read more: Like HAL 9000, TABOR’s programming overrides will of voters – The Denver Post
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