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The Denver Post comes out against Proposition CC

DENVER–The Denver Post Editorial Board published an editorial Friday recommending voting against Proposition CC, the 2019 ballot issue that would forever “de-TABOR” the overcollection of taxes by the State, allowing the Legislature to permanently keep and use retained tax revenues that would otherwise be refunded to taxpayers.

The Post editorial calls Proposition CC “fatally flawed,” saying, “we only get one shot at spending these dollars, and lawmakers simply missed the mark, especially given that this is going to be the plan for these dollars for the foreseeable future.”

But at the same time the editorial argues that some fix is needed, saying, “Had this proposal come with a sunset date, say five or 10 years from now, we’d be much more likely to support it.”

The editorial hypothesizes that the money will be divided into thirds, with public schools, higher education and transportation each getting roughly a third of the excess revenues, in perpetuity.

The editorial examines concerns with education funding fairness saying, “We fear it’ll be spent on pet projects instead of on reducing the cost of higher education for the next generation of Colorado students.”

The Colorado Blue Book estimate for how the revenues would be used divides up $310 million in the 2020-21 budget year and $342 million in the 2021-22 budget year three ways; public schools, higher education and roads, bridges and transit. Beyond the 2021-2022 budget year estimates are not available, but the Blue Book says, “Over the long term, Proposition CC will increase government spending and eliminate TABOR refunds.”

But there is nothing in the language of the ballot issue or in the bill itself that requires the Legislature to allocate the money by thirds, and the language in the Blue Book about appropriations is qualified with the word “expected.”

The bill itself, House Bill 19-1257, which is what voters are voting to enact, says only that a special general fund sub-fund is created to hold the revenues “to provide funding for” the five categories. The bill does not set any dollar amounts or percentages of the fund that must be allocated to any of the categories.

The Legislature controls appropriation of general fund revenues each year. The language of the bill appears to allow the Legislature to appropriate funds in the special account to any of the five categories any way it pleases.

For example, rather than dividing up the funds into thirds, as the Post’s editorial suggests, it appears all of the revenues for a given year could be devoted only to transit projects, or only to public schools, or only higher education or any mix of the three while not appropriating any money for repairs, maintenance or expansion of roads and bridges.

The Post editorial acknowledges the highway problem, saying, “For years, the state has deferred maintenance to roads and bridges due to inadequate funding.”

The bill requires the State Auditor contract with a private entity to conduct an annual “independent financial audit regarding the use of the money.” But an audit is after the fact, informational and doesn’t dictate how the appropriations are to be allocated.

That power lies with the Legislature.

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