TABOR NOW cuts nothing and limits wild spending

Posted Aug. 11, 2009, at 7:14 p.m.

I read with interest Reps. Jim Martin and Elsie Flemings’ July 23 column attacking the new TABOR initiative. As TABOR NOW’s state chair, I was greatly surprised to learn that the new TABOR was “draconian” and undemocratic, that Colorado was a sinkhole of ruin because of it and that the Maine Legislature was being “responsible” when it enacted LD 1495.

Neither Martin nor Flemings is a model of fiscal restraint or democracy. In the recent legislative session, for instance, both voted to impose a new tax on health insurance claims that will cost the average Maine family up to $400 more in insurance premiums per year.

Rep. Flemings either sponsored or co-sponsored measures that would have created a local option sales tax and both a county option and municipal option sales tax on meals and lodging. Do her Bar Harbor constituents know of her apparent disregard for their financial security and the health of the local tourism industry?

As for their commitment to democracy and free speech, both voted for LD 310, which makes ordinary residents “indirect lobbyists” subject to registration with the Ethics Commission if they use the mail or buy a newspaper ad encouraging their fellow residents to contact their legislators concerning specific legislation.

While Martin and Flemings tout the Legislature’s fiscal responsibility, the reality is that even after cutting $500 million from a state budget bloated by excess, our politicians were still left with a massive deficit.

In an act of sage planning, Martin and Flemings voted to use federal stimulus money — meant for infrastructure and job-creation — to close this further deficit. They know that when the stimulus money dries up, the budgetary hole will remain. It’s their doing and LD 1495 will change nothing.

TABOR is a sensible proposal that cuts nothing but does limit the kind of wild spending that has nearly doubled our state’s budget between 1996 and 2007. TABOR applies a gentle brake on excess taxation and spending while permitting government at all levels to grow at a natural pace.

While they are correct that TABOR applies to all state spending, this is by no means a bad thing. It simply requires legislators such as Flemings and Martin to relearn the lost art of prioritization. At the same time, TABOR is inherently democratic: If the Legislature wants further taxes or spending, they have only to ask their fel-low residents to vote for the increase, as Mainers have done with school budgets since 2008.

Although Flemings and Martin hold up Colorado as a place where roads crumble and disease and illiteracy stalk the land, they misstate both the state’s prosperity and Coloradans’ approval of their own version of TABOR.

Because Colorado’s TABOR lacked a budget stabilization fund, Colorado residents did vote in 2005 to forgo tax surplus refunds for five years to better permit the state to cope with the last recession. The voters did not loosen the restraints on taxation and spending. Martin and Flemings also fail to mention that last year 55 per-cent of Colorado’s electorate voted to defeat a union-sponsored referendum to gut TABOR. As to the roads, I’ve driven them and they’re certainly far better than in Maine, where our Legislature has repeatedly “borrowed” from the highway fund to cover its own fiscal mismanagement.

In the end, TABOR NOW poses no threat to anyone except esteemed members of an out-of-touch political class now operating without accountability or basic respect for their own constituents.

TABOR NOW ensures that we will have the final say about our finances while preventing politicians such as Flemings and Martin from taxing and spending away our children’s future. We have the choice and TABOR NOW gives it to us.

David P. Crocker, TABOR NOW’s state chair, is an international law attorney in Portland.

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