GOP kills measure to change TABOR

Transportation funding bill dies in party-line vote

DENVER — Instead of increasing taxes — as another proposal working its way through the Colorado Legislature would do to pay for transportation projects — a solitary Republican tried to persuade his fellow GOP senators Monday to go along with a bill that would accomplish the same task without raising taxes.

Regardless of that suggestion, the GOP-dominated Senate State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee voted along party lines to kill the measure, which was introduced by Rep. Dan Thurlow, R-Grand Junction. Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, who chairs the committee, voted against the measure.

The measure, HB1187, would have based the state’s revenue cap on a five-year rolling average of personal income rather than annual inflation and population increases, as has been the case with the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights since voters approved it in 1992.

Its Senate sponsor, Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, said it is far better to use money taxpayers are already paying to fund state government, rather than pass another bill to increase taxes, as is in the works.

The measure, which Thurlow got through the Democratic-controlled House on a mostly party-line vote, didn’t attempt to change TABOR itself, but Referendum C, which voters approved in 2005.

“I don’t believe that we need to look at any tax increase,” Crowder said.

Supporters of the bill said the current mechanism — inflation and population — has nothing to do with government spending.

Carol Hedges, executive director of the Colorado Fiscal Institute, said TABOR calls for inflation to be measured by the consumer price index for the Denver-Boulder-Greeley region.

“This index measures the price of consumer purchased goods and services,” she said. “It measures the change in the price of things like toasters and TVs. This (index) measure does not reflect what state government buys.”

Opponents, however, said there’s nothing in the bill that guarantees where the additional revenue would go.

Clifton resident Kevin McCarney told the committee that personal income growth would be a higher measurement because those who live on the Front Range have recovered from the recent recession, meaning they might be in a better position to afford paying more in taxes. The same is not true for those who live on the Western Slope, he said.

“This bill glowingly talks about the 5 to 7 percent increase in wages and the economy,” he said. “It hasn’t happened on the Western Slope, and it’s not happening on the Western Slope. We’re in trouble over there, and all we get is, ‘Oh, send us more of your money.’ We lead the state in unemployment and still do.”

Actually, at 7.6 percent, Huerfano County in southeast Colorado leads the state in unemployment in Colorado as of January, the last month those figures were released by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. With a 5.8 percent unemployment rate, Mesa County is tied with Montrose and Delta counties as the fourth worst in the state, which overall has a 3.3 percent unemployment rate.

Opponents also tried to argue that while the bill would send the measure to voters for approval, which TABOR requires, it would create a statute, which cannot alter the state constitution.

But the bill’s drafter, Ed DeCecco with the nonpartisan Legislative Council staff, said the measure didn’t attempt to alter TABOR or the constitution, but Referendum C, which allowed the state to retain surplus tax revenues for a short time.


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