Sep 212004
 
Authors: Chris Kampfe

As state legislators point fingers across partisan lines, yet

another year will go by without anyone taking direct action to

address the financial crisis facing Colorado.

Two laws, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and Amendment 23, will

remain unchanged for another fiscal year because legislators and

citizens groups failed to find backing to put amendments to either

one on November’s ballot.

TABOR and Amendment 23 put restrictions on the state budget by

limiting the intake of state tax revenue and contrastingly

increasing annual spending on K-12 education. The interaction of

these two, though intrinsically unrelated, have tied up the state’s

budget in recent years.

“It took three times to pass TABOR. It may very well take three

times to change it,” said Bill Chaloupka, chair of the political

science department at CSU. “We lost the chance this year to get

that started.”

When TABOR was introduced in November 1992, Democratic Gov. Roy

Romer denounced the bill as being a potential “economic Armageddon”

for Colorado, according to a Nov. 6, 2002, article from the

National Review Online.

Although TABOR had some success in the late 1990s, recent state

and national budget crises have caused the law’s limitations to tie

the budget in a knot. For some legislators, Romer’s foreboding

words are beginning to ring true.

“(Colorado) is in the hole before (it) even begins,” said Sen.

Peggy Reeves, D-Larimer County. “We’re estimating a structural

deficit of $263 million.”

TABOR’s clear stance on taxes has caused legislators to stand on

opposing partisan lines.

“The political will didn’t exist on the part of the Republican

leadership,” said Rep. Angie Paccione, D-Fort Collins. “The door

was literally shut on the governor’s office and the (Republican)

side.”

Reeves also saw reluctance from Republican legislators to seek

change in either amendment. She said some legislators don’t feel

TABOR is at fault for the state’s current financial crisis.

“I think we had agreement in the Senate to move forward,” Reeves

said. “But the Republican leadership in the house (wasn’t

there).”

Some Republicans in legislature disagree.

“All of us put something on the table; the proposals I put on

the table were dismissed by the Democrats,” said House Majority

Leader Keith King, R-Colorado Springs. “They didn’t even want to

look at them.”

While most state tax-funded programs have felt the strain of the

budget crisis, higher education has had to constantly adapt to the

budget mood swings.

As officials at the Colorado Commission on Higher Education,

Colorado universities and state legislators have deliberated

between legislative actions such as student vouchers and enterprise

status, the general consensus is that higher education will have to

show some extended flexibility.

“I think it’s possible, but I don’t know to what extent,” King

said. “It’s going to be interesting to see if CU, with their

enterprise status, survives the way they’re going.”

The University of Colorado-Boulder has opted to obtain

enterprise status, a condition that will allow it to skirt certain

TABOR restrictions by receiving less funding from the state.

One aspect of enterprise status would give universities

increased control over in-state tuition rates.

“What could potentially happen is that there would be no

difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition,” Paccione

said. “(College) tuition is going to skyrocket, it has to.”

Jason Hopfer, director of government relations with the CCHE,

wrote in an e-mail that the economy is rebounding.

“Current revenue forecasts show that the state’s budget

situation, in terms of money coming into state government, is

improving,” Hopfer wrote.

Despite a potential economic recovery, Chaloupka believes the

state is overdue for a change in higher education funding.

“One way or another, some (change to TABOR) should have appeared

by now,” Chaloupka said. “This is also coming at a time when other

universities are starting to get more money and move forward.”

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