Bill Grant Column September 30l, 2008
Questions 2A and 2B are both essential for the future of Grand Junction
It is a strange law that proves its effectiveness by the number of times the citizens who voted for it manage to circumvent its provisions. Such is the history of the infamous TABOR (Taxpayers Bill of Rights) Amendment. Since its passage in 1992, TABOR provisions have been voided by hundreds of local elections to enable local support of school districts, fire districts, development of infrastructure and other essential city or county services.
In 2005, Colorado voters passed Referendum C, suspending the TABOR revenue limits on state government for five years and permanently ending the damaging ratchet effect. When the amendment sunsets in 2010, the state again will face the financial problems addressed by Referendum C, as the revenue retained by the state fails to keep pace with the costs of growth.
Amendment 59 will address TABOR revenue restrictions at the state level this November.
Grand Junction voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on TABOR on the local as well as the state level with the appearance of Questions 2A and 2B on the city ballot. The provisions of alternative 2B would permanently end the TABOR revenue restriction that requires the city to return taxes collected in excess of TABOR limits.
TABOR would remain in effect to ensure that voters approve any tax increase or new debt.
The good news is that the proposed new public safety complex that will be authorized by 2A has such widespread support that the most frequent subject of debate has not been the need for the facility, but how to pay for it. Replacing facilities that are outdated, outgrown and worn out with a public safety complex designed for the 21st century is a no brainer. Paying for it is a challenge.
As reporter Mike Wiggins pointed out in a recent Daily Sentinel news article, Mesa County voters have elected to override TABOR limits more than 30 times to support “Mesa County, School District 51, and small sanitation and fire districts.” In addition, 10 of 26 efforts to “de-Bruce” to authorize selling of bonds or raising taxes have been successful. Overall in Mesa County, 36 of 56 — more than two-thirds — of all efforts to eliminate TABOR revenue restrictions have been successful.
But even these impressive efforts to mitigate the effects of TABOR leave Mesa County well behind the statewide curve for reform of this draconian constitutional amendment. Grand Junction is not only the largest municipality in Colorado that hasn’t permanently secured funds that otherwise would be returned to taxpayers, it is one of only seven not to permanently de-Bruce any source of revenue.
Mindlessly following Front Range communities as they de-Bruce would horrify Mesa County’s financially conservative voters, but they don’t seem to take equal offense at being compelled by TABOR to mindlessly adapt to Boulder-Denver economic conditions. As Mesa County Administrator Jon Peacock has written, “It is important to recognize TABOR’s revenue limitations. When the West Slope’s economy is growing faster than the Front Range economy ... it puts great restraint on our ability to retain revenues associated with the growth in energy impacted areas.”
TABOR bases its allowable revenue collections for local governments on growth plus inflation, as measured in the Boulder-Denver area. So, while the Front Range feels the impact of the housing bust and other market declines, driving down the factors that determine TABOR revenue limits, Mesa County is experiencing the effects on growth of the energy boom.
With our factors stimulated by the boom and our revenue collection pegged to the recessionary economy of the Front Range, it seems like the ratchet effect is still in effect for Grand Junction.
Question 2B is an implicit recognition that TABOR limits based on Front Range numbers don’t work for the Western Slope. Both to build the new public safety facilities and to ensure that other essential city infrastructure does not decline to equally dysfunctional states, de-Brucing any excess revenue is a key step to the future.