The late state Sen. Ken Gordon carries a sign at the Colorado Capitol showing his support for Referendums C and D in September 2005. Voters passed the measure in November of that year. (Karl Gehring, Denver Post file)
The cyclically punitive nature of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights has put Colorado in a bind more than once.
Just last week, revenue estimates showed the state will exceed TABOR revenue caps in 2015-16 by $137 million and will have to issue refunds, which will mostly go to low-income residents as tax credits.
The “excess” is supposed to continue through 2016-17, and perhaps longer, with an additional $239 million forecast to be collected and refunded.
Yet, the state faces significant needs in education and transportation as it emerges from a recession and tries to recover from budget cuts.
And that is the bitter reality of TABOR, as true today as it was a decade ago: Its restraints hamper the state’s ability to have its budget rebound from a recession.
Now that elections are behind us, it’s time for state leaders to replicate the bipartisan will mustered in 2005 to craft a timeout from constitutional spending caps and put a measure before voters.
Referendum C was the product of intense negotiations between then-Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, and the legislature, which was controlled by Democrats. It wasn’t easy to come to agreement on all the finer points, particularly when it came to the sunset provision of Ref C, which asked voters to let the state keep revenues above the TABOR cap.
But by the end of the 2005 legislative session, lawmakers and the governor had agreed on a plan — and after a hard-fought campaign, voters were persuaded to approve it as well.
Ref C is the template that should be followed today.
This would not be a “tax increase” any more than Ref C was, despite what critics will undoubtedly charge.
The measure would simply ask voters whether the state could keep revenues above the TABOR limit that it is already collecting.
Of course, passage of such a measure would end the prospect of refunds, but we think — we hope — voters would understand the need for fresh revenues to backfill recession-era cuts to K-12 funding.
And it should also be evident, given the recent hullabaloo over how the state has had to resort to private companies to help pay for major transportation projects such as U.S. 36, that highway funding is in seriously short supply.
Coloradans, to their credit, are pragmatists when it comes to government spending. The Ref C model, in which a broad coalition pitched specific spending needs, appealed to that sensible nature once and should be pursued again.
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