by Jon Caldara
The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights does NOT limit tax and spending.
In fact, TABOR allows Colorado governments, all 3,700 of them, to rake in and keep unlimited amounts of money and heap unlimited amounts of debt upon your children. It requires you merely be asked first. That’s it. Ask first.
You won’t be comfortable with the metaphor, but I don’t use it to shock or name call. I use it because it’s the right analogy.
Over the years there has been a growing awareness of the need for consent. Colleges are trying to draw a clear line, instructing young men that the absence of an affirmative “no” from a girl is not consent for sex. Only a “yes” can be a “yes.”
TABOR was intended to demand of government what we demand of boys who date our daughters. Not asking is NOT consent. And without asking, the default must be NO.
And yes, I understand one is a crime of personal and physical violation, in a different and more abhorrent class than the collective violation of taxpayers. But the basic principle is the same — taking away consent is wrong.
I know what they’re going to say: In our republican form of governance, the people give their consent via those they elect. Fair point. But TABOR was passed because we, the people, demanded a higher level of consent.
It’s like how the norm on date rape was raised to “no means no,” and then raised to a higher level of, “silence too means no. Only yes means yes.”
Sadly, the courts have sided with the fiscal frat boys and ripped away the rights you voted for that require consent on taxes, excess revenue and debt.
TABOR says government can ask you to keep up to four years of excess revenue above growth in population and inflation. However, our state’s Supreme Court ruled that “four years” now means “forever.” So, many local governments have now “forever” De-Bruced, never needing to ask ever, ever again. Classy. And since most of the taxes you pay in Colorado are local, not state, TABOR limits no longer apply to most of your taxes.
TABOR requires that governments ask first before raising taxes. But our Supreme Court ruled that by labeling a tax a “fee,” they don’t need your consent. Hello Hospital Provider Fee. Hello “Faster” fees on your car registration.
TABOR requires that before they put you into debt, they merely ask first. But our Supreme Court ruled that they don’t need your consent if they call debt a “Certificate of Participation.” In this scam, instead of going into debt for, say, a 30-year bond, government agrees to 30 one-year bonds, without asking you.
In 2005, then Mayor John Hickenlooper jumped out of an airplane to sell us a “five-year TABOR time-out” called Referendum C. But supporters lied every time they said, “five-year timeout” because it was permanent, forever jacking up of the state spending floor. It takes more cash from us every single year, without asking ever again.
Since its passage, Ref C has cost us $15 billion. That’s about $3,000 for every man, woman and child in Colorado, $12,000 for a family of four, and growing.
Before consent was ripped from us via Ref C and the courts, TABOR saved us from becoming California. In the late 1990s, the state refunded billions in excess revenue back to us. They did so over the screams from the takings coalition that we should instead be “investing” that money in government, like California was doing.
But TABOR saved our fiscal bacon. In 2002, recession hit and revenues plummeted. Most states saw their budgets fall off a cliff causing huge shortfalls and all the pain that comes with it.
Thanks to TABOR that didn’t happen here.
Sadly, by the time recession hit again in 2008, consent had been taken from us. And our financial transformation into California moved into warp speed. Court rulings and Ref C let our budget skyrocket and bloat during the growth, and when revenues crashed, panic and pain ensued.
But when consent is no longer required, painful and terrible things always happen.
This article originally appeared in the Denver Post on February 24, 2017.