They lied to us in 2005, and they are doubling down on this lie in 2019. Colorado voters were sold a bill of goods with Referendum C in 2005, and it is of the utmost importance that we aren't fooled again with Proposition CC in 2019.
Proponents of Referendum C originally claimed that their measure was "temporary." The measure was supposed to offer a five-year reprieve from the constitutional limitations created by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR), allowing some fiscal flexibility for Colorado lawmakers to invest heavily in education and transportation.
Or so they claimed.
Aside from the dangerous precedence of hitting pause on the Constitution, Referendum C proved to be anything but "temporary." The referendum allowed Colorado's spendthrift government to permanently augment its spending cap, shortchanging taxpayers on their potential refund year after year since its passing. After 2005, legislative budget reporting still references the "Referendum C cap" to distinguish it from the actual cap originally determined and allowed by TABOR's population-plus-inflation formula.
In addition to its disingenuous timetable, the ballot language of Referendum C misrepresented itself with its first three words: "Without raising taxes." Between 2005 and 2016, it is estimated that Referendum C greenlighted more than $17 billion in excess taxpayer revenue that would have been otherwise refunded to Coloradans. You don't have to read anybody's lips to know that paying more taxes — as opposed to being refunded what is rightfully yours — is a default tax increase.
Furthermore, Referendum C did not accomplish its stated goal of being a fiscal boon for education and transportation. As demonstrated by 2018's ballot measures to funnel even more money to schools and roads (i.e., Amendment 73 and Propositions 109 and 110), this hijacked revenue was still not enough to fund Colorado's education and transportation needs. Never mind the fact that state auditors reported that 80% of CDOT's budget couldn't be analyzed due to "accounting discrepancies."
Maybe — just maybe — Colorado doesn't have a revenue problem, but rather a spending problem. "Nah," said the Colorado General Assembly in 2018.
Instead, what is needed to fix this fiscal problem, according to state legislators, is to double down on this deception with the appropriately titled Proposition CC. If passed, this 2019 ballot measure would permanently abolish the state government's obligation to refund taxpayers. I repeat: permanently. At least this time around, legislators have dropped the pretense that they are bluffing with "temporary" half-measures; when it comes to keeping all of your hard-earned income, these legislators are going all-in, baby.
Fortunately, Colorado's robust economy is throwing a wrench into this plan. Three-year estimates of the excess revenue generated by Colorado taxes range from $1.2 to $1.5 billion, meaning that Colorado taxpayers will experience their first significant tax refund since the passing of Referendum C.
In politics, timing is everything, and Colorado lawmakers are quickly learning that 2019 is different than 2005. A 2019 poll shows that TABOR remains popular among Colorado voters. The poll, conducted by Baselice & Associates, Inc., revealed that 47% of respondents supported TABOR, while 26% opposed it. After a pollster read a statement that explained TABOR in greater detail, support spiked to 71%.
This combination of a sizable refund and polling has Colorado lawmakers shaking in their boots. Based on the failed attempt to convene a special session in hopes of brokering a deal, state lawmakers are anticipating CC to go down in flames.
TABOR is, unfortunately, a shell of its former self. Its effectiveness has been chipped away by a decades-long rebranding campaign that laundered tax revenue by using terms like "fees" and "enterprises." Abusing these loopholes has allowed lawmakers to leapfrog the electorate, bypassing their constitutionally required approval to levy more taxpayer money.
Regardless, TABOR is still a vital, one-of-a-kind safeguard that empowers Coloradans against the wastefulness of government. Come November, let's be certain to keep it that way.
Fool us once with C, shame on you; fool us twice with CC, shame on all of us.
Jay Stooksberry is a freelance writer and business owner, and serves as chair of the Libertarian Party of Delta County.