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
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)
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
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.”