Columnists, Elections, Gold Dome, Jon Caldara, Proposition CC, TABOR, Taxes

Caldara: The non-campaign to pass Proposition CC

If by some miracle Proposition CC passes, it will only be because the proponents didn’t run any campaign to promote it. Which, by the way, they are not.

Confused? Me too.

The last time the voters allowed the state to keep our excess tax refunds was in 2005. Back then it was called Ref C and was limited to only 5 years. Prop CC by contrast takes away our tax refunds forever.

And Ref C barely passed in 2005 only after the biggest, loudest coalition in recent Colorado political history was painstakingly built. With strong support of top Republicans like Governor Bill Owens and US Senator Hank Brown (both of whom are working hard for a NO vote on Prop CC this year), hundreds of organizations lined up not just to endorse Ref C, but to fight for it month after grueling month. Groups big and small pushed it ferociously on the most granular community level. It was a massive undertaking, the election version of launching every tiny boat to rescue British soldiers from Dunkirk.

And if all that happen to pass just a 5-year timeout of our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, you’d expect an effort a hundred fold greater and a coalition a hundred times bigger to permanently end our tax refunds (you know, forever), allowing state government to grow unchecked until the end of time (which, again, is a lot longer than 5 years).

But instead, crickets.

Oh sure, there are some TV ads and mailers littering our mailboxes (the sure sign the lazy consultant class is taking their slice), but there is absolutely no orchestrated, movement building, join-the-chorus campaign to pass it. Governor Polis has shown tepid support at best. There is no bipartisan backing for it; not a single Republican legislator (sans liberal Kevin Priola) voted for it. Even The Denver Post editorialized against it.

I mean the “campaign” is so barely existent it makes one wonder if, just maybe, it’s on purpose?

Our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) is very clear about the wording that has to appear on your ballot to raise tax rates. “Rates” being a key word. We have grown very used to that language, “SHALL STATE TAXES BE INCREASED $310 MILLION…” When any government throughout the state wants to raise your tax rates, they HAVE to use that language, making it perfectly clear to voters what they are voting on.

TABOR isn’t as clear on the ballot language on other tax increases, like letting a government keep excess taxes that would otherwise be refunded back to you. It most certainly is a tax increase to keep your tax refunds. More of your hard-earned money goes to the state and they get to spend it, but it isn’t a “rate” increase.

So, there isn’t anything to stop a government from lying on the ballot and say it doesn’t raise taxes at all. That’s exactly what our state legislature and governor did with Prop CC.

In fact, they were so brazen they wrote the ballot language to start with that lie, “WITHOUT RAISING TAXES AND TO BETTER FUND PUBLIC SCHOOLS, HIGHER EDUCATION, AND ROADS, BRIDGES, AND TRANSIT…”

Who doesn’t want to better fund public schools, higher ed and transportation if it doesn’t cost you a penny?

Polling shows if voters are blindly asked only that untruthful question, as the legislature wrote it, a slim majority could support it. But with the tiniest bit of knowledge that it will cost $650 million in the first two years alone and only grow from there, polling on Prop CC sinks like a stone.

The tax-increasing proponents of Prop CC have seen the same polls I have.

Let’s put it another way. If Prop CC were to get a fraction of the attention Ref C got back in 2005, like stories in the news every single day, dinner table conversations and chats at work, it wouldn’t have a chance.

Prop CC’s only hope is that voters only read the unicorns and rainbows fib that is the ballot language without any frame of reference.

And since the local political media is a ghost of what it was in 2005, the proponents might get what they need – no coverage – no conversation. And the best way to try to insure that – don’t run a campaign.

Imagine the bumper sticker. “Yes on CC. Everybody just SHHHhhhh.”

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.


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