Oct 08

Adams County District Court Judge Ted Tow rules that lawsuit challenging Aurora Gaylord project can proceed

Adams County District Court Judge Ted C. Tow ruled last Friday (29 August 2014) that a lawsuit challenging tax incentives offered by the city of Aurora to developers of the Gaylord hotel project can go forward.  Plaintiffs had challenged Aurora’s tax incentives – including creation of an “enhanced taxing area” and a special election to raise taxes to finance the project – violated Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

As reported in a recent Colorado Springs Gazette article,

The Aurora City Council ?authorized the enhanced taxing area and the election to raise taxes at a meeting in June 2011. Only one person voted in the election as the land included in the taxing area is owned by a single corporate entity.

Rather takes the “one man, one vote” principle to a whole new level, eh?

Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts.  We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.

However, we can’t do it alone –  we need your continued support; via your comments (Sound Off!) and, yes, your contributions.  Freedom isn’t free –nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.

Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.

http://www.clearthebenchcolorado.org/2014/09/01/adams-county-district-court-judge-ted-tow-rules-that-lawsuit-challenging-aurora-gaylord-project-can-proceed/

Oct 01

No benefits to TABOR according to the CEA

TABOR friends,

Colorado’s Education Association President, Kerrie Dallman, welcomed many thousands of delegates at the National Education Association to Denver this summer for its national convention.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wb_62weV7EE&sns=em

If you wondered how your friends and family in the education profession might be willing to respect the citizens’ Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, please watch just one minute of the attached video, starting at into 1.30 it.  Realize how that message was then taken back across the nation.  Then consider the TABOR Committee’s mission to inform people in other states of the TABOR benefits.

(In the last two minutes of the video, Dallman talks about the Community Organizers imported and hired into JeffCO since this spring to work against new school board policies.  And to think that the media reported the walk-outs as if they were spontaneous.)

Penn Pfiffner

 

Sep 29

CO Revenue Forecast Shows Continued Growth

state of colorado logo

The latest revenue forecast shows continued growth with the state’s General Fund revenue expected to grow 7.4 percent in FY 2014-15 and 6.4 percent in FY 2015-16.

Projections show an increase of $80.9 million in FY 2014-15, or 0.8 percent higher than compared to the June 2014 forecast. Projections for FY 2015-16 are 1.3 percent, or $131 million higher.

“Colorado’s economy continues to expand at a pace that is among the best in the nation,” the Office of State Planning and Budget reported today. “The state’s concentration of individuals and businesses focused on products that are in high demand in today’s economy continues to feed economic growth.  Colorado also benefits from a high degree of business dynamism, as well as a growing culture for innovation and collaboration among individuals and firms. However, not all parts of the state are experiencing the same degree of economic strength.”

Income taxes from wage withholdings and sales tax collections continue to grow at a solid pace due to Colorado’s economic expansion.

The state’s General Fund reserve now is projected to be $232.6 million above its required amount for FY 2014-15.

The state is projected to end FY 2013-14 with $235.8 million above its required amount based on preliminary information from the State Controller.  All but $25 million of this money, which remains in the General Fund, is allocated to various cash funds, including $135.3 million to the Capital Construction Fund.   Several higher education capital construction projects will proceed as a result.

TABOR revenue is forecast to be $48 million, or just 0.4 percent, below the Referendum C cap in the current fiscal year, which is within the normal range of possible forecast adjustments.  TABOR revenue is forecast to exceed the cap by $133.1 million in FY 2015-16 and $239.4 million in FY 2016-17, meaning that a refund to taxpayers is required under this forecast, unless voters allow the State to retain the revenue.

Though a TABOR refund is projected, the money forecast to be available in the FY 2015-16 General Fund would allow for a 10.5 percent increase in appropriations.  Meanwhile, under current law, as a result of the TABOR refunds in FY 2015-16 and FY 2016-17, SB 09-228 transfers will be reduced by half.

Under this forecast, in FY 2015-16, revenue above the Referendum C cap would be refunded through the State Earned Income Tax Credit to qualified taxpayers and the sales tax refund to all taxpayers.  In FY 2016-17, revenue above the Referendum C cap would be refunded through a temporary income tax rate reduction and the sales tax refund.

Many indicators point to a continued economic expansion. A special set of unique circumstances, however, could result in an economic slowdown.  One risk is less accommodative monetary policy.  Also, current weaker global economic conditions, as well as continued geopolitical tensions, are concerns.  Unexpected events surrounding these issues could have negative implications for the economy and result in revenue collections that are substantially different from this forecast.  It is also important to note that even relatively small changes in the projected growth rate of revenue can materially impact the budget outlook.

http://theprowersjournal.com/2014/09/co-revenue-forecast-shows-continued-growth/

Sep 27

Democracy Requires a Patriotic Education

The Athenians knew it. Jefferson knew it. Somehow we have forgotten: Civic devotion, instilled at school, is essential to a good society.

What is an education for? It is a question seldom investigated thoroughly. The ancient philosophers had little doubt: They lived in a city-state whose success and very existence depended on the willingness of citizens to overcome the human tendency to seek their individual, self-interested goals and to make the sacrifices needed for the community’s well-being. Their idea of education, therefore, was moral and civic, not merely instrumental. They reasoned that if a state or community is to be good, its citizens must be good, so they aimed at an education that would produce virtuous people and good citizens.

Some two thousand years later, from the 16th through the 18th centuries, a different group of philosophers in Italy, England and France introduced a powerful new idea. Their world was dominated by ambitious princes and kings who were rapidly asserting ever greater authority over the lives of their people and trampling on the traditional expectations of individuals and communities. In the philosophers’ view, every human being was naturally endowed with three essential rights: to defend his life, liberty and lawfully acquired property.

The responsibility of the state, therefore, was limited and largely negative: to protect the people from external enemies and not to interfere with the rights of individual citizens. Suspicious of the claims of church and state to inculcate virtue as mere devices to serve the selfish interests of their rulers, most philosophers of the Enlightenment believed that moral and civic instruction was not the business of the state.

Among our country’s founders, none was a more devoted son of the Enlightenment than Thomas Jefferson, yet as he considered the needs of the new democratic republic he had helped to establish, he came to very different conclusions. Like the ancient philosophers, Jefferson regarded education as essential to the establishment and maintenance of a good polity— Plato, in “The Republic,” spends many pages on the nature of the citizens’ education, as does Aristotle in “Politics.” Jefferson regarded a proper educational system as so important that in the epitaph he wrote for himself, he did not mention that he had twice been elected president of the United States but proudly recorded that he was the “Father of the University of Virginia.”

Jefferson was convinced that there needed to be an education for all citizens if they and their new kind of popular government were to flourish. He understood that schools must provide “to every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business; to enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts, and accounts, in writing.”

For Jefferson, though, the most important goals of education were civic and moral. In his “Preamble to the 1779 Virginia Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge” he addresses the need for all students to have a political education through the study of the “forms of government,” political history and foreign affairs. This was not meant to be a “value free” exercise; on the contrary, its purpose was to communicate the special virtues of republican representative democracy, the dangers that threatened it, and the responsibility of its citizens to esteem and protect it. This education was to be a common experience for all citizens, rich and poor, for every one of them had natural rights and powers, and every one had to understand and esteem the institutions, laws and traditions of his country if it was to succeed.

It is striking to notice the similarity between Jefferson’s ideas and those of a leader of the last great democracy prior to Jefferson’s fledgling democracy. In 431 B.C., Pericles of Athens described the character of the great democratic society he wished for his community: A city “governed by the many, not the few,” where in the “matter of public honors each man is preferred not on the basis of his class but of his good reputation and merit. No one, moreover, if he has it in him to do some good for the city, is barred because of poverty or humble origins.”

Both great democratic leaders knew that democracy, properly understood, requires a careful balance between the political and constitutional rights of the individual, where absolute equality is the only acceptable principle, and the other aspects of life, where equality of opportunity and reward on the basis of merit are appropriate. They also agreed on the need for individuals to limit their desires and even to curtail their own rights, when necessary, to make sacrifices in the service of the community without whose protection those rights could not exist. In short, democracy and patriotism were inseparable.

These values have not disappeared, but in our own time they have been severely challenged. With the shock of the 9/11 terror attacks, most Americans reacted by clearly and powerfully supporting their government’s determination to use military force to stop such attacks and to prevent future ones. Most Americans also expressed a new unity, an explicit patriotism and love of their country not seen among us for a very long time.

That is not what we saw and heard from the faculties on most elite campuses in the country, and certainly not from the overwhelming majority of people designated as “intellectuals” who spoke up in public. They offered any and all explanations, so long as they indicated that the attackers were really victims, that the fault really rested with the United States.

As most of us have come to know too well, the terrorists of al Qaeda and other jihadists regard America as “the great Satan” and hate the U.S. not only because its power stands in the way of the achievement of their Islamist vision, but also because its free, open, democratic, tolerant, liberal and prosperous society is a powerful competitor for the allegiance of millions of Muslims around the world. No change of American policy, no retreat from the world, no repentance or increase of modesty can change these things.

Yet many members of the intelligentsia decried the outburst of patriotism that greeted the new assault on America. The critics were exemplified by author Katha Pollitt, who wrote in the Oct. 1, 2001, edition of the Nation about her daughter wanting to fly the American flag outside their window after 9/11. “Definitely not,” Ms. Pollitt replied. “The flag stands for jingoism and vengeance and war.”

Such ideas still have a wide currency, reflecting a serious flaw in American education that should especially concern those of us who take some part in it. The encouragement of patriotism is no longer a part of our public educational system, and the cost of that omission has made itself felt. This would have alarmed and dismayed the founders of our country.

Jefferson meant American education to produce a necessary patriotism. Democracy—of all political systems, because it depends on the participation of its citizens in their own government and because it depends on their own free will to risk their lives in its defense—stands in the greatest need of an education that produces patriotism.

I recognize that I have said something shocking. The past half-century has seen a sharp turn away from what had been traditional attitudes toward the purposes and functions of education. Our schools have retreated from the idea of moral education, except for some attempts at what is called “values clarification,” which is generally a cloak for moral relativism verging on nihilism of the sort that asserts that whatever feels good is good.

Even more vigorously have the schools fled from the idea of encouraging patriotism. In the intellectual climate of our time, the very suggestion brings contemptuous sneers or outrage, depending on the listener’s mood. There is no end of quoting Samuel Johnson’s famous remark that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” but no recollection of Boswell’s explanation that Johnson “did not mean a real and generous love for our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest.”

Many have been the attacks on patriotism for intolerance, arrogance and bellicosity, but that is to equate it with its bloated distortion, chauvinism. My favorite dictionary defines the latter as “militant and boastful devotion to and glorification of one’s country,” but defines a patriot as “one who loves, supports, and defends his country.”

That does not require us to denigrate or attack any other country, nor does it require us to admire our own uncritically. But just as an individual must have an appropriate love of himself if he is to perform well, an appropriate love of his family if he and it are to prosper, so, too, must he love his country if it is to survive. Neither family nor nation can flourish without love, support and defense, so that an individual who has benefited from those institutions not only serves his self-interest but also has a moral responsibility to give them his support.

Thus are assaults on patriotism failures of character. They are made by privileged people who enjoy the full benefits offered by the country they deride and detest, but they lack the basic decency to pay it the allegiance and respect that honor demands. But honor, of course, is also an object of their derision.

Every country requires a high degree of cooperation and unity among its citizens if it is to achieve the internal harmony that every good society requires. Most countries have relied on the common ancestry and traditions of their people as the basis of their unity, but the United States can rely on no such commonality. We are an enormously diverse and varied people, almost all immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. The great strengths provided by this diversity are matched by great dangers. We are always vulnerable to divisions among us that can be exploited to set one group against another and destroy the unity and harmony that have allowed us to flourish.

We live in a time when civic devotion has been undermined and national unity is under attack. The idea of a common American culture, enriched by the diverse elements that compose it but available equally to all, is under assault, and attempts are made to replace it with narrower and politically divisive programs that are certain to set one group of Americans against another.

The answer to these problems and our only hope for the future must lie in education, which philosophers have rightly put at the center of the consideration of justice and the good society. We look to education to solve the pressing current problems of our economic and technological competition with other nations, but we must not neglect the inescapable political, and ethical, effects of education.

We in the academic community have too often engaged in miseducation. If we encourage separatism, we will get separation and the terrible conflict in society it will bring. If we encourage rampant individualism to trample on the need for a community and common citizenship, if we ignore civic education, the forging of a single people, the building of a legitimate patriotism, we will have selfish individuals, heedless of the needs of others, the war of all against all, the reluctance to work toward the common good and to defend our country when defense is needed.

The civic sense that America needs can come only from a common educational effort. In telling the story of the American political experience, we must insist on the honest search for truth; we must permit no comfortable self-deception or evasion, no seeking of scapegoats. The story of this country’s vision of a free, democratic republic and of its struggle to achieve it need not fear the most thorough examination and can proudly stand comparison with that of any other land.

In the long and deadly battle against those who hate Western ideals, and hate America in particular, we must be powerfully armed, morally as well as materially. To sustain us through the worst times we need courage and unity, and these must rest on a justified and informed patriotism.

http://online.wsj.com/articles/donald-kagan-democracy-requires-a-patriotic-education-1411770193?mod=trending_now_1

Sep 26

Rocky Mountain Revenue Grab

From the Wall Street Journal on February 28, 2005:

Colorado Governor Bill Owens used to be so enamored of his state’s constitutional caps on spending that he instructed fellow Republicans about the merits of tax and expenditure limits. But that was then. These days you’ll find Governor Owens crafting rationales to bust those caps and spend the extra loot that comes with a growing economy.

States have been adopting tax and spending limits since the 1970s and 28 now have them on the books. Some are more restrictive than others, but Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (also known as Tabor), passed in 1992, is considered the gold standard. And no wonder. The measure, which limits increases in state spending to inflation and population growth and returns surplus revenues to taxpayers, ushered in Colorado’s most prosperous decade ever.Between 1997 and 2000, Coloradans received $3.25 billion in Tabor rebates. And far from wrecking the economy as opponents predicted, Tabor freed up capital in the private sector to create jobs and boost productivity. Between 1992 and 2002, the average Colorado family paid some $16,000 less in state taxes than in the decade prior to Tabor’s implementation; private-sector jobs in the state doubled; and government growth was kept in line with inflation and population growth.

Just as important is how these strictures helped Colorado weather the last recession. By forcing lawmakers to restrain spending during the boom years, the state was better able to cope with revenue shortfalls when the economy went south. “While states like California had a $38 billion deficit because they had spent all their excess tax revenue and increased the size of government, Tabor saved Colorado’s financial fanny,” says Jon Caldera of the Independence Institute, a Denver think tank.

That sounds like the Governor Owens who not too long ago — October 16, 2003, to be exact — used the op-ed pages of this paper to tell other governors that the way to tackle fiscal challenges is to “tie the growth in the state government to the annual growth in inflation and population, as we have done in Colorado.”

Now Mr. Owens is working with the Democratic Legislature to undo Tabor, and he’s using the same excuses he once excoriated. Tabor limits spending to the previous year’s level, plus inflation and population growth. This means that recession years “ratchet down” state spending levels and force politicians to make tough decisions, which is what they’re paid to do.

Citing fallout from the recession and another state constitutional provision that mandates annual hikes in spending on K-12 education, Mr. Owens has proposed changes to Tabor that would allow the state to spend a half-billion dollars more each year — money that normally would be refunded to Rocky Mountain taxpayers. Moreover, the Governor wants to eliminate the Tabor limits on how fast government can grow as a share of the economy. The only saving grace is that the constitution requires legislators and voters to approve these changes.

One measure of how far Mr. Owens has shifted fiscally is the local media coverage, which was quick to note that his proposals are very similar to what tax-and-spend Democratic Legislators have been pushing for years. Mr. Owens has been at politics long enough to know that if you’re a Republican being praised in the press for having grown in office, then you’ve probably surrendered some principle.

Instead of taking on the real problem, which is the mandated increase in education spending known as Amendment 23, Mr. Owens has taken it off the table. K-12 outlays are already 47% of the budget — the largest line-item — and much too big an expenditure to ignore. The Governor argues that adjustments to Amendment 23 can be proposed only in an even-numbered year, which some dispute. But even if that’s true, the responsible move for the Governor would be to hold off on any Tabor tinkering until education spending can also be part of the discussions.

Not that we think Tabor needs tinkering; the dread ratchet effect is its most important feature and one of the reasons that states like California, Maine, Kansas and Ohio are considering their own version of Tabor. By forcing lawmakers to put the brakes on spending, even after a downturn in the economy, Tabor gives government an incentive to take on self-correcting tasks that aren’t in its nature. Selling off excess assets and reforming procedures for procurement and competitive contracting aren’t high on a state’s list of priorities unless there’s a fiscal squeeze. Tabor helps state governments find these efficiencies. Bill Owens used to know that.

http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB110955828721165586

Sep 25

No TABOR notice on stormwater fee measure

The creek under the Platte Avenue bridge after heavy rains in 2011. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS

  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • The creek under the Platte Avenue bridge after heavy rains in 2011.

If you’re expecting to receive pro and con statements of the proposed stormwater ballot measure in the mail before you vote on Nov. 4, fuhgeddaboutit.

The proposed creation of the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority and revenue to be generated to the tune of $39 million annually has been deemed outside the scope of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights notice that’s required for all proposed tax increases.

The reason is that the stormwater measure is a “question” while a measure that would raise taxes is an “issue” under the law, according to El Paso County Clerk and Recorder spokesman Ryan Parsell, who explains further via email by saying:

The Stormwater question is a referred measure, and as such is a “ballot question” pursuant to C.R.S. 1-1-104(2.7). A “ballot question” is defined as a “state or local government matter involving a citizen petition or referred measure, other than a ballot issue.” “Ballot issue” is defined as a state or local matter arising under TABOR or the statutes that allow a TABOR question in coordinated elections. See, C.R.S 1-1-104 (2.3). Consistent with this definition, TABOR defines the term “ballot issue” as it is to be used “[w]ithin this section.”

TABOR requires pro and con statements for any ballot measure proposing to raise taxes, or keep tax money that’s collected above the limits imposed by TABOR.

All that said, we’re happy to bring you pro and con statements that were submitted by the Friday deadline for inclusion in the TABOR notice, which now will NOT be included.

Pro statement, as submitted by Dave Munger, head of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations:

1BTaborNotice.pdf
Con statement, as submitted by Douglas Bruce:
1B_Con_statement.pdf
As for another county measure, 1A, which asks permission to retain tax money collected in excess of TABOR caps, here’s the pro statement, as written by Susan Davies, who works for the Trails and Open Space Coalition:
1A_-_support_letter_v2.pdf
Here’s Bruce’s statement opposing 1A:

Issue_1A_against.pdf
The statements for and against 1A will be included in the TABOR notice.

We’ve asked for a comment from Bruce. If and when we hear back from him, we’ll update.

http://www.csindy.com/IndyBlog/archives/2014/09/24/no-tabor-notice-on-stormwater-fee-measure

Sep 23

Tax Refunds Imminent As Colorado Economy Improves

(Photo Credit: Thinkstock)

(Photo Credit: Thinkstock)

DENVER (AP) – Colorado’s growing economy means tax refunds are on the horizon for residents.

State economists told lawmakers Monday that projections for tax collections continue increasing and they need to budget for refunds mandated by Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, also known as TABOR. It calls for refunds when revenue exceeds the combined rate of inflation and population growth.

The first refunds are expected to happen in 2016, and economists told lawmakers they need to budget about $130 million for that in next year’s budget. The following year, lawmakers have to budget anywhere from $239 million to $393 million for refunds.

While that’s an indicator of better economic times, the growing revenue pie can also highlight the ideological divide over TABOR, which Republicans favor and Democrats often criticize.

Supporters of the 1992 voter-approved constitutional amendment see it as forcing state government to be prudent with spending even during economic expansions, while opponents see it as restricting investments in schools, transportation, and other services when more money is available.

The last refunds happened about a decade ago.

“I think for a few years I’ve been telling you all that there would come a point and time when the economy is trucking – at least in Colorado it feels like it’s trucking – but the budget is going to hit the TABOR limit and that means that there will still be tough budget decisions to be made. And we’re there,” said Natalie Mullis, chief economist for the Colorado Legislature.

Mullis’ quarterly revenue forecast was one of two presented to lawmakers Monday. The other was from the governor’s economists. Both had similar projections, saying Colorado revenue continues to exceed expectations because of strong sales and income tax growth.

Recreational marijuana taxes may also trigger refunds, barring legislative action, even though pot revenue is nowhere near the estimate voters received when they approved the taxes in 2013. Instead, the refunds would occur because of the overall rise in state revenue and because of a TABOR provision regarding new taxes.

Voters approved the pot taxes for school construction and enforcement and prevention programs. So far, the taxes are estimated to generate about half the $70 million predicted.

“People voted for this, people wanted it, and TABOR’s going to give them their money back and not let it do any of the things they wanted it to do,” said Sen. Pat Steadman, a Denver Democrat who is one of the state’s budget writers.

Steadman said if lawmakers refund the marijuana tax money, they’ll have to cancel spending they approved with the new revenue or dip into the state’s general fund to make up for it.

With refunds looming, lawmakers returning to the state Capitol in January can expect pressure from interest groups to try to keep the additional revenue by putting the question to voters, as TABOR requires.

– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

http://denver.cbslocal.com/2014/09/22/tax-refunds-imminent-as-colorado-economy-improves/

Sep 23

Tax refunds imminent as Colorado’s economy improves; first refunds expected in 2016

 

Colorado’s growing economy means tax refunds are on the horizon for residents.

State economists told lawmakers Monday that projections for tax collections continue increasing and they need to start budgeting for refunds mandated by Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. It calls for refunds when revenue exceeds the combined rate of inflation and population growth.

The first refunds are expected to happen in 2016, and economists told lawmakers they need to budget about $130 million for that in next year’s budget.

Recreational marijuana taxes may also trigger refunds, barring legislative action, because of the overall rise in revenue and because of a TABOR provision regarding new taxes.

Voters approved the pot taxes for school construction, and enforcement and prevention programs. So far, the taxes are estimated to generate about half the $70 million expected.

Sep 23

Revenue forecasts bring good news – and a big complication

StockCapitolFull22214

Revenue forecasts bring good news – and a big complication

Colorado tax revenues keep rising faster than state economists can predict them, a trend that might seem to be good news for education but which actually could make it harder to trim the $900 million shortfall in K-12 funding.

That’s because projected revenues are rising fast enough that they likely soon will hit a constitutional trigger that requires refunds of surplus revenues to taxpayers. If the trends continue, the 2015 legislature may have to set aside money in the 2015-16 budget to cover refunds in 2016.

The likelihood of reaching what’s called the “TABOR limit” was a key element in quarterly state revenue forecasts presented to the legislative Joint Budget Committee Monday morning by economists from the Legislative Council staff and the executive branch’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting.

“I’ve been thinking this has been coming for years,” said Lisa Weil, policy director for Great Education Colorado, a group that advocates for increased K-12 funding. “It certainly complicates” school finance discussions, she added.

Weil isn’t the only person who’s seen this coming. State economists have referenced the TABOR limit in the last several forecasts. But hitting the trigger always has been far enough in the future that policymakers didn’t think too much about it. Now, it seems, the future is just about here.

The TABOR limit is part of the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which required that state revenue growth beyond inflation and population increase in a given year be refunded to taxpayers. That limit was modified by Referendum C, a 2005 voted-approved measure that shelved the limit for five years and eased its restrictions after that.

Legislative economists estimate that Ref C, as it’s called around the Capitol, has enabled the state to retain and spend $9.8 billion that otherwise would have been refunded.

The last TABOR refunds were paid in 2005, triggered by a $41 million surplus in the 2004-05 budget year. The refunds averaged $15 per taxpayer.

Do your homework
Legislative Council forecast (TABOR section starts page 13)
OSPB forecast (TABOR starts on page 48)

Refunds receded into the realm of the theoretical after that as the recession pushed growth in state revenues well below annual TABOR limits. The March 2011 forecasts marked the turnaround for revenues, which have been on the upswing ever since.

Legislative economists estimated Monday that $125.1 million will have to be earmarked in the 2015-16 budget to cover 2016 refunds, and $392.6 million will have to be set aside in 2016-17 to pay for 2017 refunds.

Executive branch forecasters estimate the amounts to be refunded in those two years at $133.1 million and $239.4 million. (The two sets of forecasts offer differ in amounts.)

The legislative staff forecast estimated 2016 refunds at $11 per taxpayer, provided through the earned income tax credit and sales tax refunds. The larger 2017 refund would be provided by a temporary lowering of the income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 4.5 percent, plus more sales tax refunds.

TABOR refunds matter to education spending because they require lawmakers to consider yet another demand as they attempt to juggle competing state spending needs.

The state’s school districts took a $1 billion hit in expected funding after the 2008 recession, a impact known as the “negative factor” after the formula used to reduce K-12 spending in order the balance the overall state budget.

District leaders and lobbyists fought hard during the 2014 session to trim the negative factor, and lawmakers did make a $110 million cut. (Get background in this story.) Education interests have signaled their intent to push for trimming the negative factor further during the 2015 session, an effort likely to be complicated by the need to address the TABOR limit.

“It’s going to take a lot of conversation,” said Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards and the group’s Capitol lobbyist.

The negative factor also is being challenged by a pending lawsuit (see story).

The amount of funding available for education also is a key concern for the state’s colleges and universities. Their state support has recovered modestly in the last two years. But the higher education system also is in the middle of fleshing out a performance funding system mandated by the 2014 legislature. Many in higher ed are worried there isn’t enough funding to allow that new system to operate properly. (Get background here.)

Lawmakers have an alternative to paying refunds – asking voters to let the state keep the money, as Ref C allowed nearly a decade ago.

“It’s time to talk about TABOR’s binding requirements,” Urschel said, adding that it’s “maybe” time to consider a new version of Ref C.

The politics of that are tricky, especially if Republicans take control of the Senate, the House, the governorship or any combination of the three in the Nov. 4 election.

“This is going to a fun session,” Weil said of 2015, with a hint of irony in her voice.

Forecast notes

The forecasts released Monday touched on three other topics of interest for education funding watchers.

State Education Fund: This dedicated account, used to supplement K-12 spending, is projected to have between $561 million and $672 million in it for spending by the 2015 legislature. The fund contained more than $1 billion last spring, prompting a tug of war between lawmakers who wanted to spend more on schools and others who wanted to save for future rainy days. The rainy day crowd mostly prevailed.

Marijuana revenues: Up to $40 million a year in excise (wholesale) taxes on recreational marijuana is earmarked for the Building Excellent Schools Today construction program. Prior marijuana revenue forecasts proved way too optimistic, partly because many users so far have chosen to stick with low-tax medical marijuana. The latest legislative forecast puts excise revenues at under $12 million in each of the next two years and at only $12.3 million in 2016-17. (See this story for more background.)

College construction: The higher education lobby’s big spring 2014 gamble paid off. Scrambling to find campus construction money, higher ed helped push through a bill that earmarked some surplus 2013-14 revenues for buildings – if that surplus materialized. It did, and nine of the 10 projects on the priority list got their money on Sept. 15. The 10th is expected to get its cash near the end of the year after the state’s 2013-14 books are finally closed. The list of 10 includes a few non-campus projects. The higher ed projects are at the Auraria Higher Education Center, CSU-Fort Collins, CU-Boulder, Fort Lewis College and Adams, Colorado Mesa and Western Colorado state universities.

http://co.chalkbeat.org/2014/09/22/revenue-forecasts-bring-good-news-and-a-big-complication/#.VCJDnfJ0xes

Sep 22

School Finance Legislation and Consequences, with TABOR

TABOR-required refunds would be $125M in ’16-17 and $392M in ’17-18, Colorado legislative economists project. Need for refunds would require legislature to set aside $$ in prior years, likely affecting such things as cuts in K12…
http://www.coloradofiscal.org/info-graphic-a-history-of-school-finance-in-colorado/

shrinking funding for Colorado Schools