Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Millie Hamner wants to Californicate Colorado
On Your Right
Millie Hamner wants your money. Again.
Representative Hamner who, barring the unforeseen, will be chairwoman of the Colorado Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee in the coming session, correctly sees the Taxpayer Bill of Rights as a roadblock to what Thomas Jefferson once described as “an unbounded field of power”: an unrestrained government’s ability to tax as much as it can for whatever purpose it wishes. It was Madison, not Jefferson, who completed the thought, thereby leveraging the power of those who control the spending.
Ms. Hamner wants to do away with it – for our own good, of course.
A bit of history may be in order. TABOR was passed in 1992 mostly in reaction to large increases in tax rates and a general feeling that Colorado was beginning to follow California and a few other states down the high-tax, pervasive-government, share-the-wealth road. Simply put: It prevented an increase in tax rates without voter approval and called for return of unspent monies to taxpayers. It was amended in 2005 to allow unapproved tax-rate increases according to a formula based on inflation and population growth, eliminating most of the “ratchet-down” effect of the original amendment. Hamner thinks TABOR must be eliminated, so the state legislature can resume Californicating Colorado.
She bases her most recent argument on a study done at Colorado State University’s Colorado Futures Center by three economists who have been TABOR deniers since about 2008. The study was financed by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, which may be “nonpartisan” but is hardly neutral. The institute exists to further the ideas of Henry George, a late nineteenth century Progressive economist who believed, among other things, that industrialism created misery and injustice and that natural resources, land value and what he termed “opportunities” were everyone’s property.
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In this instance, it matters very much who is involved in — and behind — the study.
Hamner’s two main points are interesting for what they reveal about her underlying philosophy. She admits that the state has $11 billion in the general fund; she doesn’t note that planned General Fund expenditures amount to $10.3 billion. She doesn’t say that approximately 39 percent of the budget is going to “Health and Human Services” — about twice what is budgeted for the K-12 education on which she hangs her argument. Nor that the TABOR refund she excoriates as dragging Colorado to its death is less than half of that earmarked for capital construction or “miscellaneous.”
That doesn’t matter because your money is not yours; it belongs to the state, which will give as much back as it sees fit. Or not.
Her second point — actually taken from the CSU paper — is that “81 percent of Colorado property owners are paying more taxes as a result of TABOR.” Here we get to the real point. Not that, to quote the report, “74 out of 178 of Colorado’s school districts are paying more in taxes than they would without TABOR,” but that Hamner thinks local property taxes paid for local services and state income taxes are the same. They are not.
One principle of conservatism is that taxes, insofar as possible, should be set, levied and used by those who benefit by the goods and services they provide and who are the closest to those doing the spending. That is why education, which long consumed a great deal of the public purse, was seen as a local concern since before we were a nation. Local tax authorities and school boards are readily accountable to those who pay their bills.
Hamner is a product of a later generation, which apparently sees nothing wrong with the appropriation of money by remote authorities for purposes unagreed to, through opaque methods without much of that pesky accountability. Thus, the proliferation of state and federal Departments of Education, whose bureaucrats feel perfectly comfortable telling those they administer exactly what, and how, they will teach and learn. They take money in taxes and give a bit of it back to pay the bills, provided one does as they say. As to the rest, well … it will be given to others, so they may pay less and thank the bureaucrats for their largess. It is this above all that is reducing our politics to the level of parasites and hosts. Remember: There is no “free.” There is only “paid for by someone else.”
This scam has had a long and successful run; so much so that those in charge consider it normal and think themselves ill-used when thwarted or inconvenienced by the actions of the great unwashed. Those who complain about the “restrictions” of TABOR are among the former. Like all the latter, they ought instead learn to live within their means.
That’s only fair, isn’t it?
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily.
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