The ballot language is complicated, but what Proposition 117 does is simple: it allows voters to approve new, big state fees.
For too long, politicians at the Capitol have gone around the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) and raised taxes by disguising them as “fees,” and we want to pump the brakes. Because when you’re required to have health insurance, and they add a “fee” to that insurance, there is nothing that distinguishes it from a tax.
We all know that the cost of living in Colorado is unfortunately on the rise. Not only are health care and housing more expensive, but taxes and fees are also contributing to this spike in costs. On top of that, we now find ourselves in the midst of a recession. In order for our economy to fully recover, we’ll need to enact sensible policies that will allow families and small businesses to bounce back stronger than ever. Our economy can’t recover until families and individuals are back on their feet.
But instead, too many politicians seem focused on coming up with more ways to add revenue to the state budget. Legislators get away with this by creating “enterprises” – which are basically new bank accounts that fall outside of the General Fund– and fill those accounts with money from charging fees. Originally, enterprises were used properly to support things like our state university system, our state parks, and the state lottery. For example, you pay a fee for a state park pass if you want to use their services – it’s up to you. But more recently, the legislature and courts have expanded the definition of enterprises so much that it’s almost meaningless.
There are car registration fees, hidden fees on people staying overnight in hospitals, and new this year they’re charging a fee on the health insurance plans of more than 1 million Coloradans. We don’t have the opportunity to choose if we’re willing to pay these “fees” or not – unless of course you’re willing to trade your car and driver’s license in for an all-season bicycle. All of these were done without a vote of the people.
So how bad has the fee problem gotten? The Common Sense Institute recently put out a study finding that since 2000, enterprise fees have risen four times faster than the General Fund. When TABOR was implemented in 1993, 46% of our state budget was exempted from it. Now, a whopping 69% of our $30 billion budget is exempt.
The Vote on Fees ballot initiative simply says that any new state enterprise–with fees over $100 million over its first 5 years–would go to a vote of the people. When crafting this initiative, we were careful to only include new state enterprises. This means that localities will not be touched by this, and neither will existing enterprises. We simply want to stop legislators from this abuse of taxpayers in the future.
Legislators have been clear that the worst is yet to come when it comes to fees. With the state facing a budget shortfall, legislators will be desperate to find ways to bring in more revenue. They have already floated ideas for a “gas fee,” and the anti-energy opposition to this measure makes it clear that they want to use enterprises as a way of targeting the oil and gas industry to carry an even higher financial burden.
The paid family leave proposal – Prop 118 on your ballot – is an example of what we want to happen. It’s a $2 billion-per-year enterprise that we’re vehemently against, but at least the people are getting a vote.
Prop 117 is crucial right now because we know that how we respond to this recession will have a long-term impact on our state. Our economy is #1 in the country, at least partially because we have kept tax rates low. We need to stop the abuse of fees before it gets any worse. Whether something is labeled a “tax” or a “fee,” it still comes out of our pockets. With the “Vote on Fees” Initiative, all we want to do is leave it up to the voters to decide.
Vote “yes” on Prop 117.
Lindsey Singer is Communications Director of Colorado Rising State Action and one of the proponents of Proposition 117.