TABOR top issue in 2004 |

TABOR top issue in 2004

Jane Stebbins

SUMMIT COUNTY – The biggest issue the state Legislature might tackle this year could be changes to the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) to ease increasingly tight budget constraints, Summit County’s state legislators agreed.

The 65th General Assembly convenes Jan. 7, and the budget is likely to rise to the top as the dominant issue.

Voters approved TABOR in 1992. It requires voters to approve any tax increases and the state to return to taxpayers any surplus revenue it collects over an amount that allows for growth plus inflation.

Additionally, if tax revenue one year is less than it was the year before, the state cannot increase it to the higher level without a vote of the people.

Called the “ratcheting down effect,” that part of TABOR has collided with two other amendments – Amendment 23 and the Gallagher Amendment – to limit severely what the state can do.

“Some (legislators) want no changes to TABOR, others want change,” said Rep. Carl Miller, D-Leadville. “The middle ground, if there is any, would be to regain the (revenue) base after the ratcheting-down effect.”

The Gallagher Amendment limits residential property taxes to 45 percent of the total collected, which has hit school funding hardest.

And Amendment 23, approved in 2000, requires the state to increase school budgets each year, regardless of the health of the economy and regardless where the money comes from.

A change to a state Constitutional amendment requires a vote of the electorate. Legislators have to obtain a two-thirds majorities in both houses to put it before the voters.

“It’s going to take a lot of time and effort,” said Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden, who represents Summit County in the 16th district. “I don’t know if we can get two-thirds of the people there to agree on anything.”

Miller said he thinks there will be more consensus than last year on issues, primarily because it’s an election year.

“I can tell you the dynamics change in an election year,” he said. “There’s a lot of political posturing that’ll take place this year.”

Without consensus, legislators might have to cut additional millions from next fiscal year’s budget.

Last year, the legislature cut millions of dollars from higher education, public health and government services to balance the budget as required by the Constitution. They also took cash from trust funds.

“The majority of the General Assembly thinks the budget is just fine; it’s less government,” she said. “I don’t like big government, but effective government sometimes means you change things. TABOR doesn’t let you do any innovative stuff.”

Another issue that could be brought back to the table is water. Fitz-Gerald and Miller expect to see legislation in a similar vein as Referendum A, which voters defeated in November.

Health issues, particularly those related to new insurance laws that could shift expenses previously covered under auto insurance onto an already stressed health insurance industry, might also be addressed in the next session.

Growth, a hot-button issue in the last 1990s, will likely take a back seat again to other issues, Fitz-Gerald predicted.

“As with most things, the General Assembly will turn a blind eye to ongoing problems so long as they’re not knocking on their front door,” she said of the often partisan squabbles at the Capitol. “Operating in crisis mode is not the best way to operate.”

She hopes to introduce legislation that would remove from the Department of Regulatory Agencies the ability to go after security fraud and put it under the auspices of the attorney general.

And she expects a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on the GOP’s appeal on Congressional redistricting.

Miller plans to introduce a bill to tighten identity theft laws and another to make it a crime to steal free newspapers.

“The DA says that’s not a crime,” he said. “But there’s a value to that because of advertisers.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or

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