April 17, 2012
Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach says the spending limit imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights is “an arbitrary restriction in the law” and that it’s worth pondering an April 2013 city ballot measure to place a temporary freeze on TABOR’s math.
There’s been a recent uptick in the city’s sales tax revenues, but it hasn’t been dramatic. If the economy continues to improve next year, and if oil wells appear inside the city limits, the city’s fortunes could improve quickly.
In the past few years the city has imposed deep budget cuts. Some of those services and some of those jobs may never come back, but quite a few citizens think the erosion of city services has gone too far.
“People want core services,” Bach said Monday. He added that “if there is protracted growth” in the local economy, the city might have to make small refund payments to citizens via credits on their utility bills, should city revenues exceed the artificial ceiling mandated by TABOR.
Voters in many Colorado communities (including Monument earlier this month) have approved temporary time-outs from TABOR’s budget math while retaining the right to vote on all tax increases. It’s a way to modestly grow revenue without raising taxes and applying a sunset clause always gives voters the right to change it later.
It’s so modest that in the first year of a five-year TABOR freeze, the city might not see an extra cent on revenue.
Bach, still in his first year as mayor, says there’s more budget-tightening to do, but “once we’re through this process and we’re lean and mean, we need to decide, as a community, what to do. We need to look at everything we do.”
TABOR’s ratchet-down math is intended to corrode government down to nothing. Most people don’t want that. Coloradans love being able to vote on tax increases — that shouldn’t be changed.
Among other things, Bach worries that “we have serious road and bridge deterioration” that must be addressed fairly soon. Trying to keep swimming pools open and paying for public safety are challenges that won’t go away.
How to persuade voters? Simply tell the truth about the budget. Provide a list of infrastructure projects to be paid for with any money that comes in over the TABOR “ceiling.”
Then promise voters that none of the additional revenue will be spent on new programs, or even on existing ones that have their own revenue stream, such as the open space program.
If Springs voters approve as Monument voters did, the city would then have to account for every cent that came in. That would be easy — it’s not going to be a jillion dollars.
A modest notion to think about.
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