Sponsors of a proposed constitutional amendment to limit state and local tax increases today sought to put a positive spin on a key vote in Colorado to exceed similar limits there.
“I think this shows that TABOR is working,” said Rep. Frank Lasee, R-Bellevue, using the acronym for the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights. “The voters there had their say. When the people decide to tax themselves, that’s how government should work.”
But opponents of the proposal called it a death knell for Wisconsin’s proposal.
By David Callender and Anita Weier
November 2, 2005 in The Capital Times
“This proves that robotic formulas don’t work, especially when they are spliced into a state constitution,” said Rich Eggleston, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Alliance of Cities. The Alliance has opposed Taxpayer Bill of Rights efforts in Wisconsin on the grounds that local governments need flexibility to meet local needs.
“We know from public opinion polls that support for a TABOR in Wisconsin is waning. And I hope this is another nail in the coffin,” he said.
Wisconsin Republicans have been pushing for the proposal for almost three years. They contend that voters – not elected officials – should decide when and how much to increase state and local taxes.
Because Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle has threatened to veto any bill imposing such limits, the Republican plan would impose the limits under a constitutional amendment. Constitutional amendments are approved by voters and are not subject to the governor’s veto.
But Republicans in the Senate and Assembly remain split over just how the plan would work. Republican leaders said recently that they hope to have a plan ready for legislative action by next spring. The earliest the plan would likely come before voters is 2007.
In Colorado, voters agreed to suspend that state’s spending caps for the next five years, thereby giving up more than $3 billion in taxpayer refunds to help the state bounce back from a recession. Voters ignored fiscal conservatives who argued that the government doesn’t need more money to spend.
But Lasee noted that voters rejected another ballot measure that would have allowed the state to borrow an additional $1.2 billion immediately for economic recovery.
The vote was closely watched in states around the nation. Californians are scheduled to vote on state spending limits next Tuesday, and Kansas, Ohio, Maine, Nevada, Oklahoma and Arizona are considering spending caps.
“Colorado is still in a world of fiscal hurt. Its school system is at the bottom of the country. Its roads still need way more help than yesterday’s referendum will provide. Legislators who can’t do their jobs – to run the state budget the way taxpayers want – shouldn’t rely on a TABOR for Wisconsin,” Eggleston said.
Supporters of the referendum said Colorado simply could not afford to vote no, not with higher education, health care and transportation already suffering from millions of dollars in budget cuts.
“It was a tough election for all,” said Republican Gov. Bill Owens, who stunned his own party by joining Democrats in crafting the measure. “Everyone cares for Colorado, and I understand why others feel differently.”
The referendum approved Tuesday lets the state keep an estimated $3.7 billion over five years that would otherwise be refunded under its TABOR, a constitutional amendment that is considered the nation’s strictest cap on government spending.
With 98 percent of the expected vote counted statewide, 559,006 voters, or 52 percent, had approved the plan, compared with 516,808, or 48 percent, who voted against it.
Voters rejected a second ballot measure that would have let the state to borrow up to $2.1 billion for roads, school maintenance, pensions and other projects. With 98 percent of the expected vote counted, 543,521 people were opposed, 529,293 were in favor.
One opposition group was already threatening legal action Tuesday night over voting problems that cropped up late in the day.
In the traditional conservative stronghold of El Paso County, anchored by Colorado Springs, some voters waited in line well after the polls should have closed because a higher-than-expected turnout had created a ballot shortage. Some people left in frustration, clerk Bob Balink said.
In Greeley, heavy turnout had voters at one library waiting in line for 40 minutes to cast their ballots.
“My job depends on it. Without it, we’re toast,” said Laura Manuel, who works at Metropolitan State College in Denver and supported suspending the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. “People want a free lunch – they want roads and sidewalks but don’t want to pay for it.”
The 1992 constitutional amendment, dubbed TABOR, has been celebrated by fiscal conservatives across the country. Until this year, Owens was among them, but he said he backed the change because Colorado faces a fiscal crisis.
Randy Wood, a 45-year-old PTA member with two daughters in Denver’s public schools, said he voted in favor because he worries about more cuts in education after seeing music and the arts suffer.
Patricia Kropf, a retired dental office manager from Denver, said she voted against it.
“We don’t trust the government, and we don’t know what they would do with the money,” the 62-year-old Republican said.
The vote capped a bitter, $8 million campaign.
Supporters argued that without the change, Colorado would be forced to close state parks and cut funding for health care and universities and community colleges.
Opponents branded the measures a tax grab by politicians too gutless to make tough decisions on spending.
“We have some people running around saying the sky is falling. Others say this is the opportunity we have been waiting for, that we can do government with less,” said Jon Caldara, leader of the opposition group Vote No; It’s Your Dough. Caldara said the ballot shortages Tuesday were inexcusable and he threatened legal action.