Apr 092009
 
Authors: Alex Stephens

If you wanted to destroy Colorado government completely, what would be the most effective way to do so?

It wouldn’t be terrorism, it wouldn’t be trying to instigate anarchy, it wouldn’t even be wide-spread corruption. All it would take is convincing the taxpayers that they have rights — a Bill of Rights — that stops the evil, tax hungry liberals from giving their money away to “illiterate peasants.”

TABOR — the infamous Tax Payers Bill of Rights — written by Douglas Bruce and passed in 1991 is legislation that requires new or modifying tax legislation to be passed directly by the people instead of by the men and women elected to know what’s best for the state. Tax cuts, on the other hand, can be proposed by anyone and passed by the state legislature without the consent of the public at large.

Imagine the states general fund, the pile of cash collected from taxes, to be like an inflated balloon.

Combined with the Arveschoug-Bird spending limit measure passed in 1991 that sets a 6 percent annual increased spending cap on the state budget based on prior year spending, TABOR has led to the continual decline of Colorado’s general fund, the balloon of state tax spending can let air, or revenue, out very easily, but is very difficult to re-inflate.

Once it starts shrinking it will only get smaller. Add in the aforementioned illusion that TABOR is actually good for Colorado, which dissuades enough citizens and legislators from abolishing it, and we’ve created the perfect recipe for disaster.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released an analysis of TABOR in 2005 titled “A Formula For Decline.” Their results were nothing less than sickening.

TABOR’s effects are directly responsible for:

Colorado’s decline from 35th to 49th in the nation for K-12, education spending. Our average teachers salary, compared to average pay in other occupations, bottomed out from 40th in the nation to 50th.

A 31 percent decline on higher eduaction spending. Between 2001 and 2005 alone tuition increased by 21 percent.

Colorado’s state of public health has shamefully plummeted. Adequate access to pre-natal care for pregnant women in Colorado went from 23rd to 48th in the nation, full child vaccinations fell from 24th to 50th and at one point in 2001 Colorado could no longer afford to purchase vaccines for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

Colorado is also near the bottom of the list among states for other services like low-income health insurance, elderly care and Medicaid.

Because of TABOR, Colorado institutions have been pitted against each other in the competition for funding like never before.

Where should the money go? To corrections to keep criminals behind bars? Should health care get it to aid low-income families and the increasing number of unemployed? Or do our aging roads and water supply infrastructure desperately need it, as they are the most fundamental parts of society?

Ultimately everyone in Colorado will lose, but the poor who rely on state services will be hurt much more than the rich. You see, any excess revenue is no longer stored away for a rainy day, or say, an economic crisis.

The ongoing recession has accelerated the corrosive process of budget cuts across the board, including one near and dear to every student’s heart — the $300 million from higher education. In the larger picture, higher ed cuts mean a failure to invest in Colorado’s future — its citizens.

For a college grad, the light of social prosperity continues to shine farther and farther away from Colorado. If you knew that the fiscal situation of your state, relative to every other state, would get worse by the year, what incentive would you have to stay?

Knowing our government is rotting from the inside out because of the shortsighted, and possibly intentionally harmful, lawmaking of an insane religious zealot 18 years ago disturbs me.

Every state that has adopted TABOR-like measures has suffered in a similar manner, but enough is enough. It’s time we wash ourselves clean of it before we have nothing left.

Alex Stephens is a senior political science major. His column appears Fridays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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