Amendment 66 is a constitutional monstrosity and economic disaster
By Rob Natelson
Colorado’s Amendment 66 — the billion-dollar tax hike — is a constitutional monstrosity.
The first reason is that Amendment 66 is deceptive. The people are being denied a clean vote on a constitutional amendment.
This is because Amendment 66 is more than a constitutional change. It also would jack up your income taxes under state law and trigger a massive (141-page) package of education changes that aren’t even on the ballot.
The second reason is that Amendment 66 is screamingly unfair. The constitutional portion would lock in a hugely-disproportionate share of state spending for a single program at the expense of every other Colorado service, public or private.
Amendment 66 is unfair because it says that (with some refinements) the school bureaucracy “shall, at a minimum, receive 43 percent of sales, excise, and income tax revenue collected in the general fund.”
In other words, it requires that we spend nearly half our state general fund for a single service before funding anything else.
Everything else would take a back seat to the bureaucrats who administer a single government service. Law enforcement would suffer. So would disaster relief, parks, the environment, services for the elderly, health care, our universities, not to mention economic investment and our citizens’ own needs.
And that 43 percent is only a floor. Add to that what we pay in property taxes. And include in that the steep income tax hike Amendment 66 adopts, with all the revenue going to the school bureaucracy.
The third problem with Amendment 66 is that it is really, really bad government. Because of the 43 percent straitjacket, the Legislature couldn’t freely reallocate existing revenue to new needs.
For example, The Denver Post has reported that, due in part to funding limitations for supervision, inmates released on parole often commit new crimes, including murder. Yet Amendment 66 would make reallocating funds to parole supervisions that much harder, thereby endangering the lives and safety of Colorado citizens.
Fourth: Amendment 66 violates a basic principle of our American constitutionalism: Agencies are responsible to the Legislature for what they do with appropriated funds. No agency should get a permanent income stream without accountability. And that’s not just sound constitutionalism; it’s also common sense.
Fifth: Amendment 66’s tax hike is insufferable, particularly when Colorado families are struggling economically. It would raise income taxes by more than 27 percent for everyone with a federal taxable income of more than $75,000 and 8 percent for everyone else.
Sixth: Amendment 66 would hurt jobs and our state economy. Tax increases, even when they seem to focus on the “rich” (and a $75,000 income is hardly “rich”), have a way of seeping through an economy like venom. Almost everyone pays in the form of higher prices, lower incomes and fewer jobs. A tax hike, like water, runs downhill.
And don’t be misled by claims that the extra government spending authorized under the amendment would offset the damage. Some studies show that the higher taxes are likely to do a lot of harm, while the government spending will do little good.
Remember that Colorado is in economic competition with other states and other countries. Most of our neighboring states either don’t have an income tax at all (Wyoming) or, like Kansas, Utah and Oklahoma, are cutting or phasing out the income taxes they have.
A good constitution protects individual rights and organizes government to best serve the interests of all. By contrast, Amendment 66 mutilates our state Constitution to privilege the greedy few. It transfers more money to the bureaucracy to do things that will hurt the general welfare, including the welfare of our children.
This violates every principle of good constitution writing.
Rob Natelson is senior fellow in constitutional jurisprudence at the Independence Institute in Denver. He served as a law professor for 25 years at three different universities, where he taught, among other subjects, constitutional law, advanced constitutional law, the First Amendment and constitutional history.