Maine’s voters are hearing two very different accounts of how the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, or TABOR, has worked in Colorado. The facts regarding TABOR are important for Maine voters to understand as Question 4 (which is similar to TABOR) is debated.
As governor of Colorado from 1999 to 2007 and state treasurer from 1995 to 1999, I have had extensive experience in working with TABOR, and I can well understand why TABOR (and Question 4) are so controversial with the politicians and bureaucracy.
The reason is that these measures put the voters in charge.
TABOR in Maine, as it has in the state of Colorado, would allow the people, not the politicians, to decide how their tax dollars should be spent. If voters want more spending on roads or schools or health care, there is nothing in Colorado’s TABOR law, or Maine’s Question 4, that would prevent increased spending from happening.
Let me share with you some of the history of how TABOR came to be in Colorado and what it has meant for Colorado’s taxpayers.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, government spending (state and local) in Colorado was increasing by an amount far greater than population and inflation. TABOR was enacted by Colorado voters in 1992 and its effect on this trend was almost instantaneous. Tax burdens and government spending growth leveled off, and Colorado’s private sector began to grow. With job growth, or course, came income growth. Per-capita personal income in Colorado rose from 18th in the nation the year TABOR was enacted to 7th in the nation by 2000.
From TABOR’s inception to the present, Colorado voters retained the right to increase government spending as they chose. In 1997, for instance, Coloradans rejected a proposal to increase general transportation funding. While in 1999, voters approved Referendum A — which I backed — to provide additional funding for specific state highway projects.
Who got to decide what was funded? Not the politicians and not the special interests, but the voters of Colorado.
The more careful management of state spending resulting from Colorado’s TABOR initiative led to budget surpluses in the late 1990s, and thus in 2000 Colorado voters approved Amendment 23, which used some of those funds to increase state spending for education.
Again, who got to decide and have the final word? Not just the politicians and not the special interests, but the voters of Colorado.
In 2005, with Colorado recovering from recession, voters approved a proposal I put forward to suspend the tax rebates available under TABOR for five years and increase spending. Let’s be clear what happened in 2005: TABOR is still in effect and voters still retain the right to vote on all future tax increases, while TABOR’s tax rebates are scheduled to return in 2010.
Who decided? The voters.
Thinking that the passage of the TABOR time-out signaled declining support for TABOR itself, the tax-and-spend special interests put Amendment 59 on the Colorado ballot in 2008. Amendment 59 would have eliminated tax refunds under TABOR forever, effectively gutting the 1992 law and allowing out-of-control government spending to return once more to Colorado.
Luckily, Amendment 59 was rejected by Colorado voters by a wide margin, guaranteeing that TABOR’s limits on spending would remain in place, and that the tax rebates TABOR provides will return at the end of the time-out period, next year.
Who got to decide? I think you know.
What it is the level of government spending in Colorado today? It is exactly what Colorado voters want it to be. The passage of Question 4 will give that same power to Maine voters as well.
If Maine is anything like Colorado, the special interests have had their way for too long. By voting yes on Question 4, Maine voters can, as Colorado voters did, give themselves the power to build a brighter and more prosperous future for themselves and their families.
Bill Owens was governor of Colorado from 1999 to 2007 and the state’s treasurer from 1995 to 1999.