Guv: State’s fiscal policies need overhaul

Panel formed to find balance between spending, revenue

After talking to thousands of Coloradans at 70 public hearings across the state over the past 18 months, a special panel formed by Gov. John Hickenlooper issued recommendations Wednesday that repeats what several groups before it have already said:

The state’s fiscal policies are a mess and should be fixed.

The latest group to say that, TBD Colorado, comes up with similar conclusions that other groups have, that the combined tax-limiting and spending provisions of three major Colorado amendments — the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, Gallagher and Amendment 23 — are unsustainable without major reforms.

That’s the same thing the well-known University of Denver Colorado Economics Futures Panel said in 2005, and other fiscal analyses have said since.

“Important, forward-facing actions and decisions must be made to ensure a vibrant future,” said Greg Maffei, chairman of the TBD board, which stands for “To Be Determined.” “Analysts from across the political spectrum may disagree on the proper course for the state, but they agree that the current fiscal structure cannot be maintained.”

Under current law, TABOR limits how much revenue the state can raise, the Gallagher Amendment limits residential property taxes but raises commercial taxes, and Amendment 23 mandates an automatic increases in K-12 spending regardless of economic conditions.

While some have questioned whether the TBD panel was established to find justification for raising taxes, Rep. Mark Waller, the Colorado Springs Republican who will take over as House minority leader when the Legislature convenes in January, questioned whether there’s a problem at all.

Waller said the panel doesn’t seem to be acknowledging that the latest economic revenue forecast for the state is projecting a $600 million increase in revenue for next year.

If that’s the case, there’s no real conflict between TABOR, Gallagher and Amendment 23, he said.

“It sounds like their recommendation is that they look for new taxation opportunities to create new revenue streams, but I think that’s not appropriate right now,” Waller said. “You’re going to have to make a pretty strong argument to me that there’s something that needs to be fixed, that there needs to be more revenue. I think we don’t need more revenue. The books are balanced right now, and we have a revenue surplus.”

The panel, however, said that those revenues won’t keep pace with budgetary needs and rising costs, such as education and health care.


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