In 2001, the Colorado Commission on Taxation surveyed citizens’ attitudes toward the tax system. It was an important survey because it reflected the views of ordinary citizens rather than that of politicians or special interest groups. It revealed some hostility toward taxes and a low trust in the efficiency of government. This skepticism appeared directly related to the size of government; citizens have more confidence in local government, less confidence in state government, and least confidence in our federal government.
Widespread citizen support for the TABOR Amendment may come as a surprise to many because of the opposition mounted against TABOR in recent years. Some in the media appear to have launched an all-out attack on the TABOR Amendment. The Denver Post, for example, has published a number of editorials in criticizing TABOR and recommending either changes or abolition.
Critics argue that Colorado citizens dont understand the provisions of TABOR nor the impact it has on state fiscal policies. Sometimes it is argued that citizens support the provisions of TABOR requiring voter approval of tax increases, but not those provisions that impose limits on the amount of revenue the state can collect and spend.
If there is one thing that we learned from the survey it is that Colorado citizens not only understand, they support the specific provisions of TABOR. The controversy is not one of misunderstanding, but rather is founded on a fundamental difference between how taxpayers and special interests view the TABOR Amendment. When citizens passed the TABOR Amendment through citizen initiative, they made a clear distinction between the revenue the government collects within the TABOR limit and any surplus revenue collected above that limit. From a taxpayer perspective, that surplus revenue represents excess taxation that must be rebated to those who paid the excess taxes.
Special interest groups in both the public and private sector take a different view of TABOR surplus revenues. Their idea is that once the government has collected the revenue, whether it is within the TABOR limit or is surplus revenue, this is government money to be used at the discretion of politicians and the special interests they represent. Every special interest group with a lobbyist seems to want to lay claim to what they perceive as their right to the surplus revenue.
Politicians have responded with more than 20 bills providing targeted tax cuts and tax refunds to these special interest groups. The most powerful interest group in the state, the education lobby, has successfully laid claim to a significant portion of the TABOR surplus, which is now earmarked for spending on education K-12. Other special interest groups from transportation lobbies to municipal governments have proposed similar earmarking of TABOR surplus revenue.
Given this controversy, it is important to understand what the impact of tax and spending limits has been in Colorado. Unfortunately the media has often presented a distorted and erroneous picture of the impact of TABOR on state fiscal policy. To correct these errors and present a factual analysis of the impact of tax and spending limits, go to www.IndependenceInstitute.org and explore the Fiscal Policy Center’s celebration of TABOR. With the Taxpayer Bill of Rights under relentless attack, it is more important than ever to understand its success and protect it from those who want to destroy it.