When Democrat Governor Jared Polis took office in January, he rolled out an array of policy proposals which at once excited and worried both his political allies and adversaries. The newly-minted Chief Executive caught the state’s attention by including among his top priorities a permanent income tax rate reduction for individuals and small businesses.
He also talked of representing all of Colorado, but to this point, he has largely ignored the middle and right-of-center voters. Instead, he’s governed from the far left, signing into law a host of bad policies with little or no Republican support, including National Popular Vote and what some see as a de facto ban on new oil and gas development.
But income tax rate reduction is the one policy where Republicans, unaffiliateds, and some Democrats can agree. And it’s simple to do. Just lower the income tax rate.
Nothing in Denver right now is simple. With Proposition CC (a legislatively referred ballot measure to keep all TABOR refunds forever) not gaining any traction with voters, Democrats are scrambling to save face and not return to taxpayers their TABOR refunds of nearly $575 million this year. This is coming just a few months after House Speaker KC Becker (D-Boulder) called the measure “a really good first step” toward keeping and spending more taxpayer dollars. For that, she got unanimous support from her Democrat colleagues and a signature from Governor Polis.
The Gold Dome rumor mill is buzzing with some kind of a “deal” that involves a costly special session, during which lawmakers may repeal Prop CC and replace it with something to trick voters into giving up our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) refunds for symbolic tax relief for a specified period of time. Some numbers being thrown around include that for every $1 in tax relief, taxpayers give the state $8 worth of our refunds.
In other words, it’s a tax increase.
Now is the time for Governor Polis to show some leadership and make good on his campaign promise. Work with Republicans and permanently lower the tax rate, period, with no legislative trickery to muddy it up.
There is recent historical precedent that bears out the benefits of doing so. By the end of his second term in office, Republican Governor Bill Owens had implemented and overseen the most significant tax decreases in Colorado history, saving state taxpayers $3.6 billion. Having effected many of these reforms during his first term, Governor Owens received plaudits both locally and at the national level. The National Review famously dubbed him “America’s best governor.” Owens was reelected in 2002 by a greater than 30-percent margin, because voters saw firsthand the upshot of holding onto more of their hard-earned cash.
It made a difference then, and it certainly can now. Governor Polis enjoys Democrat majorities in both legislative chambers at the State Capitol in Denver, but on permanent tax cuts he likely has universal support among Republican lawmakers. There needn’t be strings attached to such a straightforward proposal.
Colorado taxpayers would probably prefer to keep their money in the first place, rather than overpay the government and not see it again for months (or longer). That’s where Governor Polis’ proposal is right on the mark. By simply lowering the income tax rate in a meaningful way, Governor Polis and Colorado lawmakers would effectively cut the bureaucracy associated with having to refund taxpayers whenever the economy is humming.
And lest you think that our government can’t afford it, be assured: with a $30.5 billion budget forecast for fiscal year 2020, the state isn’t suffering some kind of fiscal crisis. The crisis we have now is of leadership. Leadership that doesn’t seem to have a handle on Colorado’s fiscal situation. Leadership that seems to lack the skill set to prioritize the ballooning state budget; and leadership that doesn’t appear to have the courage to make good on a campaign promise.
Governor Owens was a trailblazer on Colorado taxpayers’ behalf. Governor Polis has a unique opportunity to be the same, but only if he can stop his party’s special session trickery.
Amy Oliver Cooke is executive vice president of the Independence Institute and a member of the No on CC coalition. This article originally appeared in the Greeley Tribune on July 18, 2019.