TABOR is an ideological fetish for governor candidate
In his Platform for Prosperity, GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis sets mutually exclusive goals. On one hand, he promises to “transform Colorado’s business climate so that our state is again a leader among the states.” At the same time, he claims he will “restore fiscal common sense and respect for Colorado’s taxpayers.”
The latter goal would be achieved by restoring TABOR to its pre-Proposition C authority. It would require approval by voters of any tax increases and limit state income from taxes and fees to “keep Colorado a low tax state.” To attract business, McInnis plans to put “a top priority on investing in physical infrastructure (roads, bridges and water systems) and our human infrastructure (higher education and work force training).”
McInnis also promises he will “appoint ‘pro-jobs’ leaders to key government regulatory and oversight bodies.” As experience over the years has shown, McInnis cannot deliver on both these promises. In the best of times, these infrastructure programs are lean; in recessionary times they starve. Because of the notorious TABOR “ratchet effect,” tax revenues for infrastructure and state services continue at recession levels long after the private economy has recovered.
The rapid decline of public support for higher education in Colorado is the most obvious example of TABOR revenue restrictions hurting the state, but others abound. Public health, law enforcement, parks and recreation and K-12 education are all quality of life issues that have suffered under TABOR.
McInnis’ narrow, anti-tax principles assume that no business could resist such a combination as low taxes and regulation by industry representatives. While this might be the atmosphere preferred by the energy industry that McInnis has served so faithfully, it doesn’t describe the kinds of employers Colorado should be working to attract.
As a businessman in Oklahoma cautioned, “Before voting for the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights ask yourself what kind of employer wants to move a business to a state that promises to spend less on education and training, less on roads and bridges, less on high-tech communications and less on the health and well being of its people?” Or, as Tom Clark, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President, put it, “For business to be successful, you need roads, you need higher education, both of which have gotten worse under TABOR.”
A blistering report by the Maine Center for Economic Policy found that “Colorado’s business climate has not been improved by … TABOR. In fact, it has contributed to a significant decline in that state’s public services. Colorado’s economy, hamstrung with TABOR, was not able to recover from the last recession.” The report supports its conclusions with figures for TABOR’s impact on education, health care, economic development and fiscal stability. The final sentence of the report concludes, “prior to the time-out, Governing Magazine ranked Colorado finances as among the worst managed in the country ... due to TABOR.”
According to Iris Lav, senior adviser at the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities: “Colorado, the only state ever to adopt TABOR, suffered a serious deterioration in education, health care and other services due to its rigid spending limits. That’s why a broad coalition of residents — including business leaders — came together to suspend it in 2005.” Since 2004, anti-government/anti-tax groups have tried to pass TABOR-like initiatives in 20 states. The most recent states to reject TABOR were Maine and Washington in the November 2009 election. The “votes in Maine and Washington,” Lav wrote, “show clearly that TABOR’s crippling and arbitrary spending limits remain unpopular” with most Americans.
Despite repeated repudiation of TABOR claims by other states and growing criticism by Colorado civic and business leaders, Colorado conservatives continue to insist that TABOR can be the foundation of a robust state economy. With his blind faith in TABOR’s effectiveness, McInnis seems to be running back to 1992 when rational people might have believed that TABOR could work.
“Is a political creed that is so monomaniacal about taxation that it allows no latitude for tacking with shifting fiscal winds a philosophy of governance or an ideological fetish?” asks conservative columnist George Will.
For McInnis and the Colorado GOP, TABOR is just such an ideological fetish, symbolizing a world of low taxes and sufficient services, cheap education and successful students and low vehicle registration fees and fast and safe highways.
Is this really a Program for Prosperity?