Paying the piper: Why we must pass TABOR reform |

Paying the piper: Why we must pass TABOR reform


I moved to Colorado a little more than a year ago. I’d been in Summit County something like 30 seconds when I first heard a reference to TABOR.OK, I exaggerate.It was more like five minutes. And I’m not exaggerating. I get to my new house, meet my new neighbor and in the course of that conversation find out he’d been doing part-time lobbying work in Denver. The focus of the lobbying? TABOR. I don’t like paying taxes. Who does?But I do understand that taxes are necessary, which is why the agreement formulated by Gov. Bill Owens and a majority of the Colorado Legislature should pass come fall.Is it a perfect solution? Not even close. Does it solve all the issues? Even further from being close. Is it the only option we can likely expect from the Legislature? Yep.

In overly simplified terms, TABOR, which is an acronym for the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, places a cap on spending. From what I’ve read and been told, government spending in the go-go 1990s did get a bit out of hand. So it’s not hard to understand why many felt it needed reigning in. That’s why voters passed the constitutional amendment in 1992.The problem is TABOR is tied to the economy. When things are good, there’s enough money. When things aren’t good there isn’t enough money. Which is why spending on everything from transportation to health services to corrections to programs for the disabled have been cut during the economic downturn since 2001.Of course, to make a difficult situation untenable four years ago, the voters pushed through Amendment 23 that mandates increased education spending … without any funding mechanism to back it up.So we ended up with two successful voter-backed constitutional amendments that work against each other.Proponents say that TABOR is designed to give government the incentive to spend less and run itself like a business.

I love that analogy.Government should be run more like a private business. Which one? Enron? WorldCom? HealthSouth?Bringing many of the free market concepts of business to government makes absolutely good sense – consolidating services, competitive outsourcing, seeking the best service for the most reasonable cost – but the reality is government will never operate exactly as a business does.I’m a Republican and a fiscal conservative at that, but I’m also a pragmatist. So as you might imagine, I was never a fan of Jimmy Carter, perhaps the most ineffective White House resident ever. Nonetheless, I recall something Carter wrote in an essay about 10 years ago.”There is an enormous chasm between the relatively rich and powerful people who make decisions in government, business and finance and our poorer neighbors who must depend on these decisions to alleviate the problems caused by their lack of power and influence,” he said. That pretty much defines why government should not operate solely with the bottom line in mind.

In a nutshell, the compromise that will go before voters is a five-year “timeout” from the constitutional spending cap that requires state government revenue to grow no more than population growth plus inflation. In plain terms, your tax refund from the state of Colorado for the next five years will be smaller … or nonexistent.Critics say the measure isn’t needed because there’s no sure evidence that there will be a continuing shortfall in revenues. I find that extremely hard to swallow.In the last century, every time the price of oil has increased significantly, and I think we can all agree that a doubling of the cost of oil is significant, an economic downtown, i.e., recession has followed.It really comes down to a pretty simple concept. You pay for what you get. And if this state is to move forward, it’s going to cost money. Publisher Jim Morgan writes a Tuesday column. He can be reached at (970) 668-3998 or

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