“Colorado is in trouble,” says Gov. Bill Owens, and he is correct.
The 2001 recession hit our state hard. Revenue to our state’s operating account, the general fund, fell by more than $1 billion. We made huge cuts in our budget as a result.
For example, we cut state funding to Colorado State University by 30 percent and the University of Colorado by 40 percent. We closed driver’s license offices across the state, cut public health by 60 percent and natural resources by 23 percent.
Belt-tightening is good for government, but cutting essential services like education, health care and transportation is not.
Now the economy is improving and revenue is coming back to our state, but due to a glitch in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights we can’t keep it to meet our current needs or invest in our future. While 49 other states recover from the recession, unless we fix the glitch, Colorado will be unable to recover and we’ll make more cuts in needed services next year.
Referenda C and D fix the ratchet glitch in TABOR by allowing the state to keep the revenue that comes in under existing tax rates for the next five years to solve our state’s budget crisis.
And after year six, Referendum C cuts the state’s income tax rate to 4.5 percent to keep surplus revenue above the TABOR limit in the hands of taxpayers.
Referendum C doesn’t raise tax rates or change TABOR; it uses TABOR’s provisions to meet our needs. Referendum C is asking to do what more than 900 local entities in our state have already done to meet the needs of a growing state.
Referenda C and D specify that they money has to be spent on education, health care and transportation.
Referenda C and D are the result of a bipartisan coalition of legislators working with Owens to solve our budget crisis. More than 700 organizations across our state have joined in support, including business leaders who understand the need to bring good jobs back to our state.
What will happen if Referenda C and D fail?
Next year we would have to cut $400 million more from the general fund. Estimates are we’d cut remaining support to higher education by 68 percent. CSU correctly predicts that tuition would have to increase by more than 50 percent and CU predicts more than 40 percent to make that up.
By the end of the decade, we’ll have no money for higher education, becoming the first state not to support higher education. Tuition would then be double what it is now and many kids couldn’t afford college.
Community colleges would close, something an opponent’s spokesman says is OK. What business would locate in our state?
Opponents say spending is the problem, but offer no specifics.
It is very appealing rhetoric, after all, who wants to pay taxes? But is Colorado a tax and spend state?
Let’s check the facts on taxes: We rank 50th in state tax burden. And on spending: We rank 32nd in support of schools, 47th in support of higher education, and 48th in access to prenatal health care.
General fund spending per person in our state has declined. We run a very lean state budget.
If Referendum C passes, government will still be smaller than it was before the 2001 recession. This isn’t about growing government or creating new programs, it is about recovering from the recession.
Others suggest we sell off state assets to meet ongoing needs. At least they realize we have a problem, but selling assets is like selling your car to buy groceries. Now you can’t drive to work and you’ve only solved an ongoing problem for a short time.
The opponents don’t have a plan; instead they parade pink pigs on TV ads and put out one incorrect accusation after another. They think this is a joke.
Colorado’s future is no joke.
The quality of life and future economic opportunity in our state is a serious matter. Referenda C and D are a needed, commonsense plans that meet our state’s obligations and invest in our future.