When Colorado’s ballot initiative process was first being debated in the early 20th century, former President Teddy Roosevelt weighed in, saying, “I believe in the right of the people to rule. I believe that a majority of the plain people of the United States will, day in and day out, make fewer mistakes in governing themselves than any smaller class… no matter what their training.”
Belief in the wisdom of the “plain people” is at the heart of our democracy, and at the heart of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
In recent public polling, when given the simple, unbiased definition of TABOR, 71 percent of registered voters in Colorado support TABOR, while only 28 percent oppose the law. What’s the secret to this overwhelming popularity? First, Coloradans love being able to vote on tax increases. It’s simple: The government has to make the case to voters in order to get more of their hard-earned money. Second, TABOR provides guardrails for the size of government. The state budget still grows every year, but the growth is limited. TABOR keeps the government truly serving the people.
Efforts by lawmakers and progressive special interest groups to undermine and repeal TABOR aren’t new. Workarounds in the form of fees, enterprises and lawsuits have been attempted to allow the state to spend more taxpayer money. The latest push from the legislature is for a “Referendum C 2.0,”-style bill — mimicking the period between 2005-2010 when voters barely passed a measure to let the state temporarily keep their TABOR refunds. House Speaker KC Becker is taking it one step further, teasing a measure to permanently keep refunds for state spending.
Coloradans barely passed Referendum C in 2005 because they were told the money would be divided among two high-priority areas — education and health care. In fact what happened is that spending on other programs grew by 28 percent, more than twice as much as spending on education and health care (12 percent). The legislature sold voters a bill of goods.
Voter’s know that KC Becker’s “Referendum C 2.0” is another attempt at a tax hike which won’t hold lawmakers to their promises. In a 2007 poll by the Denver Metro Chamber, only 16 percent said they felt the money was spent as intended. In addition, this effort will fail because voters know that state government already has a $1.4 billion surplus this year on top of a $33 billion budget. That’s up from $19 billion just 10 years ago. Voters want the government to use the money it has to fix our roads, put more money into classrooms instead of administration, and respect the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
In 1992, liberals claimed there would be “chaos,” that Colorado would be “closed for business” if we implemented TABOR. But that hasn’t happened — not even a little bit. Colorado has the No. 1 economy in the nation. That’s no accident. And with support for TABOR so high, any attack will be met with strong, bipartisan opposition — rightfully so.
Michael Fields is executive director of Colorado Rising Action, a conservative advocacy group. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.