Colorado Proposition CC: budget relief or a blank check?
Voter approval could boost state spending by up to $1.7 billion — when there are surpluses
EDWARDS — There are only two statewide ballot issues this year, both of which are asking voters for more money. One is relatively simple; the other isn’t.
The Vail Symposium and Vail Valley Partnership on Thursday held a presentation that focused on three of the state’s sometimes-conflicting constitutional amendments — 1982’s Gallagher amendment, 1992’s Taxpayers Bill of Rights amendment, or TABOR, and 2000’s Amendment 23, which mandates school funding.
The session focused in large part on the complicated issue, Proposition CC.
That proposition would exempt the state government from one of the requirements of the TABOR amendment, which limits tax and spending increases across state and local governments. TABOR also requires voter approval for any tax increases.
According to the amendment, revenue collected in excess of its limits must be returned to voters. At the state level, revenue only occasionally exceeds TABOR limits. When it does, those refunds — often $50 or less per taxpayer — are generally given as credits on the following year’s taxes.
Keeping the money
Proposition CC would allow the state government to keep that money and put it equally into three pots: Public schools, higher education and transportation.
Both had detailed slide shows to make their cases.
Chase called TABOR one of the “most restrictive government spending limits in the country.” He added that the proposition is a chance to address funding shortages brought about by the fact that when revenues shrink due to economic downturns, TABOR’s limits prevent revenues from matching economic growth.
And, he said, Proposition CC is offered in the spirit of TABOR, since voters will have the chance to remove the amendment’s revenue limits.
Since TABOR was passed, voters in most of the state’s school districts, counties and towns have passed similar measures to Proposition CC. In fact, 96% of the state’s school districts have asked for, and received, voter permission to keep revenue in excess of TABOR limits.
If voters pass Proposition CC, Chase said state revenue can grow at the same rate as the economy does.
Ragland countered that Colorado’s budget over the past decade has grown by an average of $1.35 billion per year. In fact, he said, only North Dakota’s state spending has grown faster than Colorado’s through 2018. Spending in half of the 50 states is lower than it was in 2008.
Ragland noted that previous ballot issues asking for relief from TABOR limits were temporary. Proposition CC is permanent.
And, he added, while Proposition CC’s spending is defined in the ballot language, it’s a law, not a constitutional amendment. “The (state) legislature always has the authority to change statutes,” Ragland said.
Both Chase and Ragland acknowledged the other made good points in parts of their presentations.
But, Chase said, Proposition CC opponents are making “the perfect the enemy of the good.”
Ragland noted that while Proposition CC isn’t technically a tax increase, it does take as much as $1.7 billion next year out of the state’s economy.
One audience member asked how Colorado’s state spending grew as fast as it has over the past decade.
Fees, Ragland responded. While TABOR requires voter approval of all tax increases, it does allow fee increases.
Chased noted that during many of the years the state’s spending grew, Republicans controlled at least one house of the legislature.
One audience member noted that Proposition CC seems “like a small band-aid for a large wound.”
Chase responded that Proposition CC can help state spending recover faster after a downturn. He said the recession that began in 2008 shrunk state revenue while prison populations, Medicaid recipients and schools all required the same amount of money.
Voters on Nov. 5 will make the ultimate decision who has the better argument.
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