No on Question 4

Posted Oct. 21, 2009, at 5:36 p.m.

Do you want to change the existing formulas that limit state and local government spending and require voter approval by referendum for spending over those limits and for increases in state taxes?

Proponents of the TABOR II initiative believe the best way to slow the growth of government and taxes is to put municipalities and the state on a fixed allowance. Increases in that allowance would come through a formula that includes inflation and the rise in state population. Or voters could override the formula in special referendums.

Putting government on a strict diet is an attractive scenario. But the problem with this approach is that what looks like a diet is in fact more like stomach stapling, a radical and risky procedure.

The reasons for rejecting TABOR II are the same reasons similar measures were defeated by Maine voters in 2004 and 2006. Limiting government spending in this manner means a sweeping change to the nature of our representative government. There are times when voters expect spending to increase, and times they expect cuts. But, they also recognize that the functions of our state and municipalities are better left to the representatives we elect and shouldn’t be paralyzed by requiring costly and time-consuming referendum votes on spending decisions.

Practically, TABOR II would freeze government at an economic low point. State government spending was decreased, not increased, in the last budget cycle, despite TABOR backers’ claims of runaway state spending. So if TABOR II is approved, and the economy recovers, state and local government will limp along behind, unable to provide the needed infrastructure and services. And a constricted government, unable to respond to changing conditions, will not serve the state’s business community, which has not endorsed Question 4.

It is also why the business community in Colorado — the only state to adopt TABOR despite dozens of efforts nationwide — campaigned to suspend key parts of the law there. Colorado was growing by double digits before TABOR was passed, but once the growth slowed and TABOR’s restrictions were felt, the state eased those restrictions.

Further, linking the growth of government to the Consumer Price Index as a measure of inflation is not appropriate. Government does not buy milk and bread; it pays for asphalt, health care insurance for employees, building repairs, benefits for poor people. The cost of these has increased far more than the cost of milk and bread.

Proponents of TABOR II counter that voters would have the mechanism to approve spending that exceeds the caps. This is true, but the process — referendum voting — is cumbersome and handicaps government’s ability to respond quickly to needs.

At the heart of initiatives like TABOR is an animus for government. Because government’s revenue stream is fairly steady there is too little incentive to find efficiencies, and bureaucratic inertia can create waste. To address this, targeting specific programs for elimination or advocating for specific cuts makes sense; freezing hundreds of government spending accounts does not.

Rather than establishing taxpayer rights, TABOR II inflames taxpayer spite — the kind that leads to cutting off a nose to punish a face. Question 4 should be rejected.

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