Change TABOR? Yes
For too many Republican lawmakers, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights is a sacred cow. Few are willing to support any tinkering of the law limiting government growth on fears that doing so leaves them vulnerable to fiscally conservative challengers.
That would seem especially true in a GOP stronghold like Mesa County, but state Rep. Dan Thurlow has proven time and again he’s no lockstep follower. After making a few waves as a party maverick in his first term, the Grand Junction Republican kicking off his second term with a proposal to change how the TABOR revenue cap is calculated.
Since the law was passed in 1992, the amount of money the state can collect is limited by a formula based on population growth and the rate of inflation (the consumer price index) in the Denver-Boulder-Greeley corridor.
While that may sound “economicky,” some economists say it’s an arbitrary pairing of unrelated data points that offers no real measure of economic growth. When inflation is low, but the economy is strong, it limits what the state can spend at a time when the budget should swell to contend with aspects of growth.
Thurlow, a businessman for 45 years, is taking the old bromide of running government like a business and applying some real-world logic to it. Would a business focus on CPI when considering costs? No, it would consider a multitude of cost indexes to decide whether to grow, contract, invest in capital or hire more workers. The current TABOR formula isn’t a proper reflection of Colorado’s growth, he said, nor does it allow the state to keep up with it.
“We go through processes in silos, talking about transportation, how we’re not doing enough, about education and not doing enough,” Thurlow told The Sentinel’s Charles Ashby. “But it all comes together at budget time and there’s not enough money. My contention is, there really is enough money. Without raising taxes, we’re raising enough money, but we always come up against the TABOR cap and come into this contradiction.”
The contradiction is refunding cap excesses to taxpayers when the state has rising costs and underfunded roads and schools.
Thurlow and Republican state Sen. Larry Crowder will ask the Legislature to authorize a ballot measure asking voters to tie the revenue cap to a rolling average of changes in personal income. Some years, the formula would raise the TABOR cap — lowering rebates to taxpayers — but government would never grow faster than people’s pocketbooks.
This common-sense measure is way past due. It preserves the popular idea of a control on government spending, but it allows the people to decide whether TABOR’s ratcheting effect is a detriment to the public good.
“This is the heart of TABOR,” Thurlow said. “Let the people decide.”
It’s been 25 years since TABOR passed. It’s high time the Legislature consider referring a measure to the ballot codifying a beneficial change.
The 2017 legislative session opens today.