2024 Leg Session, Cory Gaines, Exclusives, Gold Dome, TABOR, Uncategorized

Gaines: How the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights helps politicians prioritize

I think it’s tempting for politicians to forget that the money they spend is not theirs.  That is, it’s not money they had to work to earn, it’s just so many numbers on paper.

This came into sharp relief for me recently while waiting to testify in a legislative committee against bill.  The details of the bill don’t matter so much as the fact that at the end of the day it would’ve further grown the government; it would have meant taking more of our money to implement.  I was listening to the sponsor talking to the committee, saying that she wasn’t sure she could get her bill past the appropriations step because the budget this year is tight.  In other words, sometimes even if there is the will to pass something, if there’s no money to pay for it, it doesn’t pass.

That’s when it occurred to me that we have something besides refunds to be thankful for as a result of having the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) in our state Constitution.  I’m referring here to the provision of TABOR that puts reasonable limits on the growth in the size of state government.  In so doing, it forces politicians to be thoughtful of how they spend your money,  something they otherwise seem all to often unwilling or unable to do.

And boy do some not like it. They bristle at the thought.  They tell us that TABOR means we can’t fund schools.  They tell us that TABOR means bad roads. But TABOR does noe these things, rather it’s the choices politicians make.

The state budget is pretty tight.  It’s tight because, even though TABOR allows this year’s budget to increase, the amount of increase is not as much as expected (our state’s population didn’t grow as much as forecast among other things).  This has forced choices.  But before you start growing concerned that your children will be shivering in unheated classrooms, let me remind you that one of the Joint Budget Committee’s choices this year was, for the first time in years, to fully fund K-12 education at the level our state Constitution requires.  On top of that, they managed to find money to give the state employees union a 3% raise as mandated by the contract they signed with them last year.  And they even, with some “found” money, might just end up hiring more pollution inspectors to satisfy Gov. Polis’ request.

The point is that the limits of TABOR help push politicians towards prioritization.

The legislature has begun debating and finalizing the budget.  I can already see the many news stories where Progressives and Democrats start their annual tradition of bemoaning the limits TABOR puts on them.  When you read those, I hope you remember the above.

Cory Gaines is a regular contributor to Complete Colorado.  He lives in Sterling on Colorado’s Eastern Plains and also writes at the Colorado Accountability Project substack.


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