This might be the year for Colorado taxpayers to take a serious look at the TABOR (Taxpayers' Bill of Rights) Amendment that voters put into the state constitution in 1992.
Along with providing steady work for tax attorneys in Colorado, it dictates that ANY tax increase by any level of government must be approved by voters.
I haven't heard anyone propose to change that.
But TABOR contains a lot more. So much so that in the mid 1990s, state voters approved another constitutional amendment limiting state ballot issues to a single subject. Unfortunately, I've seen several ballot issues in the past few years that made a total mockery of that.
The issue looming now is TABOR's "ratchet down" effect. State finances were hit hard in the Great Recession.
Public schools had to deal with take-backs of a cumulative $1 billion in state equalization funding. School districts are now trying to get that money, but TABOR might prevent it.
State highways, always short on funding, had prospects of a $200 million infusion this year with the improving state economy and state revenues. But not with TABOR.
Water supply is always hot issue in Colorado. Locals want Front Range municipal water interests to fully develop their water storage before they try to take more West Slope water or buy rights from East Slope farmers and ranchers. One source of funding for water projects is state severance taxes. Because of pending TABOR refunds, Gov. Hickenlooper wants to divert severance tax money to back-fill those refunds in other parts of the budget. It's all connected.
And you know all that new revenue from recreational marijuana businesses, that's supposed to pay for state oversight of those businesses and for school construction? Nope. That's "excess," it seems, and will have to be refunded. Each taxpayer will get a refund big enough for a nice meal at McDonalds.
That's because the increase in state revenues will likely trigger TABOR's ratchet down effect this year.
TABOR dictates that if a government's revenue increases by more than a certain amount each year, the money above that limit is "excess" and must be returned to taxpayers somehow. This is not "surplus" money, which implies money left over after all valid needs are met.
TABOR includes a provision that allows voters to approve an exemption to this, commonly known as "deBrucing" after TABOR author Douglas Bruce. Voters have done this for most local government entities, but getting statewide approval to deBruce the state government seems to be a lot harder.
The result of the ratchet-down effect is that state finances will never recover from the recession, because the revenue limits ratchet down to the low point.
Some people have called this an unintended consequence of TABOR. From what I know of Doug Bruce, it was totally intended. His other assorted ballot schemes, wisely rejected by voters in the 1990s and early 2000s, showed intent to bankrupt and make all levels of government unable to function.
State legislators have already said they won't initiate a statewide deBrucing effort or amendment to address the ratchet-down issue. It will have to come from we the taxpayers. Stay tuned. Good roads, good schools and the like aren't paid for by the Tooth Fairy.