Battle’s Not Over for Taxpayer Bill of Rights

By Jon Caldara

Why? Because principles matter.  That’s why.

That’s why the Independence Institute took a stand. While the whole of Colorado’s political machinery worked overtime to pass Referenda C and D, the Institute stood firm.

Dr. Linda Gorman, director of the Health Care Institute at the Independence Institute, describes Referendum C to a “T” in her analysis, “Referendum C: Rewarding the Colorado Legislature for Behaving Irresponsibly.”

Her analysis reveals that during the 2001-2003 recession, while state revenue declined, total expenditures on salaries and wages for state employees rose nearly 15 percent. At the same time, the rest of Colorado watched personal per capita income remain stagnant.

How many non-instructors does it take to teach college students? Apparently, a lot. Gorman shines light on another unflattering statistic, this one in higher education. Rather than educate students, Colorado’s colleges and universities bloated their budgets with a greater percentage of non-instructional staff.

What would the Gipper have to say? “We don’t have a deficit because we’re taxed too little; we have a deficit because they’re spending too much. When it comes to spending your hard earned money, the big spenders act like they have your credit card in their pocket. Believe me, they never leave home without it.”

A nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy research organization dedicated to providing timely information to concerned citizens, government officials, and public opinion leaders, the Independence Institute’s mission in halting the referenda included educating voters of the danger of this forever tax increase. No matter what the pressure, no matter how many personal attacks, the Institute stood firm, because Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), which since 1992 has constitutionally limited increases in state revenue to population growth plus inflation,  is a worthy national model.

No measure that has returned $3 billion to taxpayers, and requires government to politely ask those taxpayers whether they’d like government to “keep the change” – essentially limiting the growth of government – deserves such shoddy dismissal.

The special interests knew there was one homegrown organization standing in their way as they promoted this tax increase in Referendum C, which lets the government keep excess revenue for the next five years and increases the allowable government spending base to the highest state revenue levels received between Fiscal 2005-06 and 2009-10 plus $100 million.

They spent $7.5 million, and the Institute didn’t flinch. They ran ads attacking the Independence Institute. They lined up tax spender after tax spender, including our powerful Governor Bill Owens and the wildly popular mayor of Denver, to sell their tax increase.  They harassed the Institute with legal complaints, subpoenas, long depositions and dragging court hearings. As they tried to say with a straight face that Referendum C “didn’t raise taxes” and was only a “five-year timeout,” they called the Institute and its supporters liars, know-nothings and racists.

They had a media machine that bent over backwards to run front page sob stories of how government was starving – news and pictures of everything from crumbling roads to kids in wheelchairs. They were so nervous they even ran an editorial on the front page. So much for an objective press.

They lined up more than a thousand special interest groups, mostly tax recipients, to stand against the Independence Institute and a handful of freedom fighters.

And at the end of the day their money, media and scare tactics poked a hole in Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, but they also failed to put Colorado’s children in debt, in the failure of Referendum D, which would have authorized the state to borrow $2.1 billion. It was a split decision. And like the original “Rocky” movie, the Institute is still standing after the split decision – a victory of its own.

Now the Independence Institute and a handful of grassroots taxpayer groups shake off the sting and prepare for the next fight. There is always a next fight. But now, more than ever, principles matter. Politicians will come and go, but the principles of freedom stay. The job of Colorado’s Independence Institute is to be a beacon for those principles – across the state, and across the nation.

Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute in Golden, Colo., wrote this commentary for The Georgia Public Policy Foundation. The Foundation is an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.

© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (Nov. 4, 2005). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.