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Taxpayers Lose Big in Colo. TABOR Fight

Excess tax money should be returned to the people

Last year, the fans of big government sobbed that Colorado faced a fiscal Armageddon.

State services were at risk of being reduced and programs cut because Colorado’s constitution said that tax money collected in excess of state spending must be returned to taxpayers under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

So these big-spender types—led by the usually prudent Gov. Bill Owens (R.)—put Referendum C on the ballot. Simply put, the amendment suspends TABOR for five years and lets the state government keep all of those excess funds.

It was a heated campaign, and millions were spent successfully convincing the public that Armageddon was nigh if "Ref C" didn’t pass.

And besides, they argued, it’s only estimated to come to a paltry $3.2 billion over five years. No, wait! That was the first estimate. During the campaign, the estimate rose to $3.7 billion, as the economy started to grow. Now economic forecasters see excess revenues reaching $4.2 billion.

If Colorado’s economy continues to flourish, look for that number to head skyward. But taxpayers won’t see a dime of it in their own pockets. It’ll be up to the Legislature, now controlled by Democrats, to spend that money as it sees fit. And when has the Democratic Party been known for fiscal restraint?

Moreover, we predict that when the five-year suspension of TABOR nears, look for the same Armageddon stories in an effort to make the suspension permanent.

Some Coloradans, led by the Independence Institute’s Jon Caldera, are trying to get a referendum before voters this year that would require the state to rebate to taxpayers any funds that come in over the $3.7 billion estimate.

That’s only fair, and it would hold the state accountable for its initial, unrealistically low projections.

More importantly, passing the referendum would send a message to other states, all of which closely monitored the TABOR battle last year: Excess tax money belongs to taxpayers. It’s their labor, not TABOR, that created it in the first place.

Written By

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter: @MerrillMatthews.

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