Colorado Rejects Diminution of Taxpayer Bill of Rights

DENVER (CN) — Led by Republican voters, Colorado on Tuesday overwhelmingly defeated a measure aimed at weakening the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which prevents the government from raising taxes without voter approval.

A school bus parks near the Denver City and County Building on Tuesday, as Colorado voters defeated Prop CC, a measure asking to retain excess tax dollars to fund transportation and education. (Photo by AMANDA PAMPURO/Courthouse News Service)

Since 1992, the constitutional amendment, commonly called TABOR, also requires that any unspent tax revenue be returned to the people.

“I’m supportive of TABOR,” said political activist Kendra Christian outside the Capitol building. “Any rights the people have I think they need to keep.”

Proposition CC, defeated by 55% of voters, would have required unspent tax revenue to be distributed among K-12 education, higher education and transportation. The state blue book predicted the measure would have given the government an additional $300 million in 2021 and in 2022.

While some see TABOR as a barrier against government excess, educators have long battled against TABOR in their fight for living wages and classroom supplies.

“Prop. CC would have been just one step forward, but not a solution to delivering the schools our students deserve,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association. “After decades of disinvestment, TABOR continues to strangle our public services.”

The Colorado Education Association supported teachers in Denver as they took to picket lines for higher wages in February, and again in Pitkin County (based in Aspen) in October.

“We are seeing teachers that are underpaid or classroom sizes that are too large; we’re seeing lots of things, and this is all a side effect because our state doesn’t have the money that it needs, which is really sad, because we have one of the strongest economies in the country,” said Hazel Gibson, field director for the nonprofit Great Education Colorado.

Douglas Bruce, the Colorado Springs Republican who wrote TABOR, said if teachers want to make more money they should change careers.

“They are using children as hostage so that they can get another pay raise,” Bruce said, citing the $6.4 billion allocated for education in the state’s $34.5 billion budget.

For him, TABOR represents the rights and the will of the people.

“Human liberation should be the goal of every government reform: more freedom for individuals, less power for government,” Bruce said.

While the measure failed on a state level, several municipal efforts did succeed to increase local funding for education, including rural Conejos County, near the New Mexico border, and Phillips County near the Nebraska border.

An estimated 35% of registered Colorado voters cast 1.3 million ballots on Tuesday. That’s only about half of the 2.5 million people who voted in the 2018 midterms. This year, registered Republicans and voters older than 55 surpassed other demographics in turnout.

While the state was unwilling to bet more money on the government, it narrowly took a chance on sports betting. Early polls indicated a small minority of Coloradans dipped their toe in the water, to fund, well, water.

“Now I can bet on sports,” said registered Democrat Greg Behlen. “I support any Colorado team — the Broncos, the Rockies.”

Coloradans won’t be able to bet on the Denver Broncos this season — which might be a good thing given their record — but the measure is predicted to be implemented this coming May. Proponents predict the tax on casinos will generate $29 million annually to fund the state’s ever-pressing water plan.

“It’s a good idea because in 2015 Colorado released its water plan and there was about there was about a $100 million annual gap in terms of money needed to implement it, so while this doesn’t fund all of that gap it’s a significant down payment,” said Curtis Hubbard, a partner at OnSight, a Denver-based political campaigns and communications firm.

“With our population expected to double and our usage rates not projected to keep up with future supply, given climate change and increased demand from other states, it’s critical that we implement Colorado’s water plan now,” he added.

Despite bipartisan support from 85 of the state’s 100 elected lawmakers, the measure was not without critics.

“We have no dog in the sports betting side at all,” said Gary Wockner of Coloradans for Climate Justice, who lead the opposition against Prop DD.

“We think it’s a terrible idea to raise taxes, in this case it’s on the gambling industry, because it sets the precedent that the public should pay for the damage caused by climate change,” Wockner said. “We think that the fossil fuel industry caused the damage and they should pay, so this is an egregious violation of climate justice.”

In the Denver suburb of Aurora, voters elected as mayor former Republican Congressman Mike Coffman. A critic of Trump caught between his new party and an increasingly progressive-leaning constituency, Coffman lost his federal seat to Democrat Jason Crow in the 2018 blue wave.

With a 7 percentage point lead, Coffman promised the city’s population of 375,000 that he would tackle crime and curb the threat of suburban sprawl with balanced development and open spaces.

While Colorado’s purple politics took on a blue hue last year, this election shows it is far from losing its swing state status.

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