Decades later, change may be in order

Nearly 25 years ago, out on Horizon Drive, I debated TABOR author Douglas Bruce about his Taxpayers Bill of Rights.  To the dismay of 47 percent of Colorado voters, its revenue and expenditure limits became law after the November 1992 general election.

A quarter century later, two GOP lawmakers think changing the index used to help determine allowable revenue growth needs some tweaking.

Our own Rep. Dan Thurlow and state Sen. Larry Crowder would substitute the rate of personal income growth for the Denver-Boulder consumer price index. Their bill began moving through the House yesterday. It would facilitate retaining some revenue now collected but refunded, adding dollars to fund Colorado’s highways, education systems and other needs.

Last session Crowder favored removing the hospital provider fee from the TABOR umbrella, something our Republican Attorney General ruled was legal. He would have joined Democrats as the 18th Senate vote necessary to enact the proposed change approved in the House last year. GOP Senate leaders killed the bill.

If approved, as expected, by the Democrat-controlled House, the Thurlow/Crowder bill could face a similar fate in the Senate this session.  One possible committee destination would be the Senate’s State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, known as the “kill committee,” setting up an interesting dynamic between Sen. Ray Scott, the committee chair with rumored gubernatorial aspirations, and his fellow Grand Junction legislator.

TABOR proponents selectively ignore some tenants of the law they champion. They see proposals for overrides, tax increases and public debt as somehow treasonous even though Bruce specifically allowed those actions. Former GOP Gov. Bill Owens was labeled a traitor after taking one of the most courageous political risks I’ve witnessed, supporting the Referendum C TABOR timeout in 2005. Thurlow and Crowder have been subjected to similar criticism.

A former colleague, in a discussion a few weeks ago, termed TABOR “the largest middle-class tax increase ever enacted,” citing its impact on higher education. As state budgets have been squeezed, parents and/or students pay nearly five times as much today for in-state tuition at CU-Boulder as they did in 1993-1994.  Student/parent college debt has ballooned.

People who weren’t alive when I debated Bruce have now been voters for six years. Perhaps some occasional tweaking to modernize TABOR isn’t out of line.

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Kudos to Scott Tipton. Though I’m frequently critical of our 3rd District congressman, he deserves credit for doing what so many of his GOP colleagues wouldn’t — participate in a public town hall meeting during the congressional recess.

Tipton unexpectedly showed up at the Paradise Theater in Paonia over the weekend, answering questions and hearing criticism for two hours from about 200 constituents who assembled thinking comments and questions would be videotaped and provided to Tipton and Sen. Cory Gardner.  Though things got tough in between he was greeted warmly and left to applause. 

Class act by both sides. Not so much for Gardner, who avoided open forums and spent the week in carefully orchestrated appearances before friendly groups designed to show he was “out and about” without any real exposure to constituent challenges.

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One item high on the to-do list as Congress reconvenes is approval of the nomination of Coloradan Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Gardner has expressed support for confirmation while Sen. Michael Bennet has not said how he’ll vote.

Both senators have received a letter from a bipartisan group of Colorado lawyers supporting Gorsuch. Signees include a dozen local lawyers spread across the political spectrum. Names like Beckner, ErkenBrack, Farina, Hoskin, Kampf, Prinster, Price, Quesenberry, Russell, Santo, Williams and Younger will be familiar to locals.  Others with Western Slope ties include noted water attorney Dick Bratton and former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis.

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There’s another “rest” to “the rest of the story.” My Jordan Cove column two weeks ago intentionally implied a lack of local news coverage of opposition to the effort to build a processing plant and pipeline in Oregon that might ship western Colorado natural gas overseas. Turns out looking back through 12 months of Daily Sentinel coverage wasn’t enough. If I’d have gone back just a few more weeks, to January 24 of last year, I’d have seen Dennis Webb’s “Jousting over Jordan Cove,” a lengthy Sunday story outlining opposition in Oregon.

I apologize. See Dennis’ piece (again) at

Jim Spehar (and a few local lawyers) may have upset fellow partisans. Comments welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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