Lawmakers need education on TABOR

There’s no question most school districts in Colorado — like governments at every level — are facing tough budget decisions right now.

But a proposal being pushed by some Democratic state lawmakers and education advocates — to eliminate TABOR requirements that citizens must approve any future tax increase for education — is likely to receive a failing grade from Colorado voters.

State lawmakers would do better to look for other solutions to boost education funding — such as temporary revenue increases — rather than trying to overturn the most popular provision of the voter-approved Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights.

The current economic conditions have definitely pinched school districts. Locally, School District 51 has adopted measures to encourage early retirement, put the brakes on salary increases and is examining other measures to make up for budget declines.

The budget situation for District 51 may get even more dicey. The school’s student population is projected to decrease slightly in the next school year, which will mean less money from the state. And the forecast for state revenue over the next couple years will likely mean still more cuts in state funding.

But kindergarten-through-12th-grade public education has been the beneficiary of steadily increasing revenue for most of the past decade, thanks to Amendment 23, which was approved by Colorado voters in 2000. The amendment required state funding for schools to increase at the rate of inflation plus 1 percent until next year. But, when inflation became deflation the past couple years, and the Legislature found procedural ways to cut other parts of the education budget, those automatic increases evaporated.

Amendment 23, combined with the TABOR Amendment revenue restrictions and the Gallagher Amendment limits on property tax assessments for residential property, significantly hobbled the Legislature’s ability to respond to budget problems.

That’s why The Daily Sentinel and many other news organizations, as well as community groups of various political stripes, have repeatedly advocated in favor of ballot measures to alleviate the constitutional conflicts in those measures, give lawmakers more flexibility in dealing with budget issues, while at the same time preserving the authority of voters to approve any tax increases.

That’s not what Democrats, led by Rep. Debbie Benefield, D-Arvada, are seeking, however. They are pushing for a measure that would be referred to voters which would eliminate the TABOR requirement for tax increases when it comes to education — from preschool to college. If voters approved the measure, the Legislature would be able to increase taxes for education without having citizens vote on the increases.

Republicans in the Legislature have already made it clear that Benefield’s measure stands almost no chance of obtaining the two-thirds support of lawmakers in both the House and Senate that is required for it to be placed on the ballot.

Even if that somehow were to occur, we expect Benefield and her supporters would get a real education on TABOR. There are portions of TABOR that many people would like to see revamped, such as the ratcheting-down revenue limits. But we doubt there is any widespread support for overturning the most cherished provision of TABOR — the right to vote on tax increases.


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