Fitz-Gerald talks taxes and TABOR in Frisco |

Fitz-Gerald talks taxes and TABOR in Frisco

summit daily news

Referendum C would allow the state to retain TABOR surplus funds for five years, rather than refunding them to taxpayers. That money will be used to pay for higher education and other services.

Referendum D asks voters to allow the state to use that surplus to bond for enough money to pay for a backlog of transportation projects. It is estimated that if both measures are approved, the state would be able to bond for $3.1 billion for statewide road and bridge projects.

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Zipping past Dillon Reservoir on Interstate 70 Tuesday morning on her way to a meeting in Frisco, Colorado Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald glanced at the gleaming water of Dillon Reservoir, full for the first time in four years.

The state of the lake this summer “really does something for your heart,” Fitz-Gerald said, but for her that “something” is loosely affiliated with the state budget.

Fitz-Gerald spoke Tuesday morning to members of the Summit County Chamber’s legislative affairs council about two proposals going to voters in November that could fix the state’s budget problems.

Referendums C and D would repeal portions of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, better known as TABOR. Voters approved the TABOR amendment in 1992, giving Colorado one of the most restrictive tax and spending limits in the nation.

Fitz-Gerald reminded chamber members that if the reservoir were depleted every year like the state budget has been, the quality of life would be different in Summit County and much ambiance would be lost.

The same would happen on a state level if Referendums C and D are defeated, she said.

“We, too, will not look like the same state,” she said.

The proposed fix would allow the state to use five years’ worth of taxpayer refunds to restore funding for roads, higher education and other state government services. The ballot measure would put $3.1 billion back into the state coffers using money that would otherwise be refunded to taxpayers under TABOR.

But the argument for taxation is a tough one to make, especially in an affluent community where it may be difficult for people to see the need for more taxes, Fitz-Gerald said.

“You would be pretty isolated here if I-70 wasn’t plowed in the winter or no one showed up if you slipped off the highway,” she said. “If you call 911 in the middle of the night, you don’t get asked for your Visa number.”

While the budget problem is not so dire as to keep snowplows off the highway or to cause a dead line at the end of an emergency call, Fitz-Gerald said people have come to expect certain services in a state where there’s no tax base to support them.

Colorado’s recession from 2001 to 2003 prompted Colorado’s $364 million annual budget shortfall, causing legislators to cut services and raid coffers such as the police and firefighter pension fund. Local and county governments also had to pick up the tab for road projects, and that is expected to continue if Referendums C and D don’t pass.

Both measures have support from Democrats and Republicans, with one of the most vocal proponents being Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican. They don’t have universal support, however.

Summit County voters are likely to support Referendums C and D, said State House Rep. Gary Lindstrom, (D-Breckenridge), who has attended two town meetings where he discussed the measures and received a positive response.

“I’m not receiving any resistance whatsoever,” Lindstrom said.

At Tuesday’s chamber meeting, executive director Constance Jones asked Fitz-Gerald how the organization could help support the issue.

Fitz-Gerald said she recognized that some conservative members of the state legislature do not support public funding for higher education, state parks and healthcare in prisons ” services that would be paid for by a TABOR repeal ” but she supports such infrastructure to provide a basis for individual success.

“If you travel to a third-world country you see in stark contrast why people can’t succeed in that environment,” she said. “Clearly, this nation has provided the necessary tools for people to succeed.

Without the infrastructure … you can’t do it.”

Vail Daily writer Tamara Miller contributed to this story.

Kim Marquis can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 249, or at

The Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR, is an amendment to the state constitution approved by voters in 1993. It establishes annual spending limits based on the amount of money the state brings in during the previous year. Whenever revenue (taxes) exceeds that limit, the surplus is returned to taxpayers. When the state collects less money than in years past, as it did during the most recent recession, the spending limit for the next year drops. Because of that, state lawmakers have had to cut funding for roads and higher education, among other things. Now that the economy is growing again ” along with tax collections ” many lawmakers would like to use that surplus to put money back into those and other programs. Because of TABOR’s spending limits, however, the state’s budget still looks like those put together during the most recent recession.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Now more than ever, your financial support is critical to help us keep our communities informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having on our residents and businesses. Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.

Your donation will be used exclusively to support quality, local journalism.