Updated: December 23, 2011 at 12:00 am
It’s the prevailing mythology that the state constitutional provision known as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights is as strong as ever; that convicted tax cheat Doug Bruce’s triumph has weathered all challenges.
That notion is a simply false.
Truth: Immediately after TABOR’s passage in 1992, voters in special districts, cities and counties across the state began approving “de-Brucing” measures, so their governments could still function the way the voters wanted.
As of 2004, when The Gazette published an in-depth look at the de-Brucings, it was obvious that TABOR was being repudiated far and wide:
• 97 percent of Colorado’s school districts had approved some kind of de-Brucing measure.
• Voters in 43 of Colorado’s 64 counties had completely eliminated TABOR’s restrictive tax-and-spending limits, while 12 others have enacted partial de-Brucings.
• At the time of the story, there had been 418 de-Brucing elections in Colorado cities, and about a third of those eliminated TABOR.
Hundreds of special districts (no one knows the precise number) have eliminated or sharply curtailed TABOR, including the tiny Tri-County Fire Protection District in conservative eastern El Paso County, which lies in what used to be Bruce’s county commission district. In 2002, the fire district faced a legal conundrum: It had to replace a broken down truck at a cost of $10,000, which had to come from the district’s reserve fund.
A state law wisely requires special districts to maintain reserve funds. The district didn’t have the money to restore its reserve, so it had to go to voters for a tax increase and a TABOR exemption. The voters approved the de-Brucing.
The district just wanted to put out a few fires, and TABOR wouldn’t allow it. You won’t find a simpler example for why TABOR’s crazy math doesn’t work.
Finally in 2005, after years of raiding trust funds, state government had no money left to pay for higher education. Without a statewide de-Brucing of some kind, TABOR’s math would have dealt a deadly blow to universities, colleges and community colleges.
Then-Gov. Bill Owens, a longtime TABOR supporter, agreed to a five-year TABOR time-out known as Referendum C. It passed, but because the state spiraled into recession, substantial budget cuts had to be made, anyway.
Many conservatives have agreed to de-Brucings, because in the end, TABOR isn’t about left-vs.-right, as Douglas Bruce would have you believe. It’s just about poor math.
Last week, Bruce’s dubious bookkeeping resulted in a felony conviction for tax evasion.
It’s time for everyone to admit TABOR’s math is just as flawed.
Listen to Barry Noreen on KRDO NewsRadio 105.5 FM and 1240 AM at 6:35 a.m. on Fridays and read his blog updates at gazette.com