Tax Payer Bill Of Rights (TABOR) at center of heated debate

Taxpayers Bill of Rights foundation member Penn R. Pfiffner discusses TABOR at the event “Social Perspectives: conversation, debate and understanding.” The event was held by the Denver Post at the Denver Press Club on Feb. 28.
Photo by Taelyn Livingston •

Kristi Hargrove voted for Donald Trump in the last election. From Crested Butte, which she calls a liberal town, she identifies as a proud Republican.

“My daughter came home from school, she was in middle school, complaining about how cold she was at school,” Hargrove said. It was around 2003. “I said to her, well wear more clothes, because you never put on enough clothes.”

However, when Hargrove went to work on a student directory for her P.T.A., she had trouble because her fingers were freezing. After confronting the principle, she found out the school had turned down the utilities.

“We live in a fairly affluent area and I thought that was ridiculous,” she said. “My comment to her was, ‘who’s wasting money?’”

It was only after going down to the school board that Hargrove found out there was no money for the school. That’s when she found out about the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

Billed as Social Perspectives: Conversations, debate and understanding, the event was the first of a new monthly collaboration between The Denver Post, the Denver Press Club and the Colorado Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. The inaugural topic was TABOR, the law that puts a cap on how much tax revenue the state of Colorado is allowed to keep after taxes are paid. The cap is tied to Colorado’s inflation and population growth.

“We have a republic based on the consent of the governed. We raised that level of consent in different areas. We want transparency in government and we want our citizens to have the final say,” said Jon Caldera, one of the panelists and proponent of TABOR.

Caldera argued that the law gives the people of Colorado more transparency and acts as a check on government spending. He said that the legislature assumes that Colorado residents are willing to allow it to raise taxes without asking first. He called it common decency to ask first before taking any action to raise taxes.


The Denver Post’s Chuck Plunkett answers questions and recieves feedback from attendant Susan Richardson after the event. The event primarily focused on the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and how it may be subject to change.
Photo by Taelyn Livingston •

However, Caldera’s comments were couched in the language of a controversial editorial he wrote for the Feb. 24 edition of the Denver Post, where he compared the government raising taxes without a general referendum to date rape. He was forced to defend his language at the event after Carol Hedges, from the Colorado Fiscal Institute, called Caldera’s analogy disrespectful to victims of sexual assault.

Director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting Henry Sobanet represented the governor’s office on the panel. “TABOR gets a disproportionate label of the cause of many of the ills. We’ve had
two recessions since 2001 and we have other laws that are really affecting public finance in Colorado, the Gallagher Amendment and also Amendment 23,” Sobanet said. “Really, the interaction of the three was not designed from scratch with an intention in mind. They are very much at cross-purposes.”

The Gallagher Amendment sets guidelines for how the state determines how property is taxed. Amendment 23 makes it mandatory for the state to spend on public education and ensures education spending keeps up with inflation.

Sobanet said that TABOR interacts with the other two amendments in a way that complicates how the state chooses to prioritize government services.

When it comes to higher education funding, Penn Pfiffner, panelist and TABOR proponent, argued that TABOR acknowledges the reality that there are limits to what politicians can deliver and gets state representatives to prioritize funding according to what Colorado residents need more. He said that by passing Amendment 23, it crowded out other spending which included MSU Denver. TABOR, he said, doesn’t direct government spending but only states what’s available to spend.

Carol Hodges disagreed.

“It’s a Hobson’s choice, to choose between being able to put your kids through college, or to be able to afford to have an education that’s going to get them prepared for college.”

Tax Payer Bill Of Rights (TABOR) at center of heated debate

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