Voters should defend their TABOR refunds

GUEST COLUMN: Voters should defend their TABOR refunds
Thomas Aiello Oct 5, 2019

Last year, Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected last year's ballot
measure that amounted to a multibillion-dollar tax increase on families and
businesses. But taxpayers beware: pro-tax activists are back on the ballot
again this November with a measure to weaken Colorado's historic Taxpayer
Bill of Rights, so that they can more easily pass tax increases in the
future.

This year's ballot measure is Proposition CC, which would alter TABOR in a
way that would take money out of taxpayers' pockets. Since it was approved
by voters in 1992, TABOR has provided Coloradans with the strongest set of
taxpayer protections in the country. By guaranteeing refunds of excessive
taxes, restricting spending to sensible growth rates, and giving Coloradans
the ability to vote on tax increases, TABOR has been instrumental in the
state's booming economy. Without TABOR, Colorado would likely not be one of
the fastest growing states in the country, even as the state continues to
rank high on measurements of public health and education.

Since TABOR limits the amount of money the state is allowed to spend,
surplus revenue in excess of the cap must be refunded to Colorado taxpayers.
Generally, the revenue cap on the state level grows with inflation plus
population increases. Due to a strong economy, however, revenue collections
are coming in above the caps, which means the state will have to refund
about $500 million to Colorado taxpayers next year, and about $1.3 billion
over the next three years. For millions of taxpayers across the state, these
refunds could help cover a week's worth of groceries, family activities, or
even help to pay some rent.

But as of now, potentially $1.3 billion in refunds to taxpayers are in limbo
and could be scrapped forever.

That's because in the 2019 legislative session, the Democratic-controlled
legislature agreed to place Proposition CC onto the November ballot. If
approved by voters, TABOR's provision for refunds would be gutted, thereby
allowing the treasury to retain all excess revenue it is required to return
to taxpayers. That means taxpayers would forfeit future refunds from 2019
on. Just put that into perspective: taxpayers will send an extra $1.3
billion to the treasury than what would normally be spent. Instead of giving
that money back to you as required by TABOR, lawmakers want Coloradans to
forget about overpayments so they can just spend it on other things in the
budget.

Tax-and-spend politicians are trying to hoodwink taxpayers into supporting
this misguided proposition, but voters shouldn't fall for it. TABOR is
working as designed: limiting the growth of government, protecting
taxpayers, and ensuring working Coloradans keep more of their hard-earned
money. And despite a multiyear suspension of TABOR, since 1992 more than $3
billion has been refunded back to taxpayers in the form of lower property,
sales, and income taxes.

Politicians shudder at the prospect of the government returning unused tax
dollars back to the people. Other special interests, especially
public-sector employee unions and others who live off of government largess,
claim that TABOR has led to "deep cuts" in government services. Colorado
hasn't experienced crippling cuts, as spending has more than doubled in the
past two decades. The tax-and-spenders ignore the fact that TABOR does not
stop the growth of government; it only manages that growth to a reasonable
rate, while the people decide whether they can afford more.

Defeating Proposition CC should be a top priority for every taxpayer who
believes they send enough money to the government. A resounding no vote will
send a clear signal to revenue-hungry lawmakers and special interests that
Coloradans are serious about their constitutional protections. And
hopefully, public officials will think twice about continuing their assaults
on TABOR or plotting to raise taxes.

Once Proposition CC is rebuffed, it is crucial for lawmakers to get to work
on tax relief and measures to strengthen TABOR. In fact, Gov. Jared Polis
even supported an NTU-endorsed bill that would have lowered the income tax
rate. But ultimately, the governor and Legislature failed to deliver and
instead focused their efforts on weakening TABOR.

Hopefully in the next session, all lawmakers make tax relief and reform a
priority to keep Colorado's economy roaring for years to come. But until
then, taxpayers and voters should focus on protecting TABOR and defeating
another bad tax measure for the second year in a row.

Thomas Aiello is a policy and government affairs associate with the National
Taxpayers Union, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for taxpayers at all
levels of government.

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