NOREEN: Another Big Idea: TABOR time-out would help us

November 20, 2009

Here is Big Idea No. 2: Colorado Springs should think about having an election in 2010 to free itself, if only temporarily, from the revenue caps imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

TABOR backers will reflexively recoil from this idea, but at least it would not be a tax increase and it would offer some hope of restoring city services lost in the most recent municipal bloodletting.

There are local conservatives of a different stripe who realize the city’s current budget woes have more to do with the recession than TABOR. These same people know that when the economy finally turns around, the city budget will remain over-dependent on sales tax and that TABOR’s “ratchet” effect (see my blog) will prevent the city budget from rebounding quickly.

It’s impossible to know when the economy will rebound or how strong the rebound will be. Any City Council member supporting a TABOR time-out would not be able to say how much money will roll in. The best the council could do would be to give assurances that the money would be spent on restoring services, not creating new programs.

Is a five-year TABOR time-out something only that crazy columnist at The Gazette would support? No, councilmen Larry Small and Bernie Herpin can see a big upside.

“I think a TABOR time-out would be a really great idea,” Small said. “I wouldn’t do it like the state did, creating new programs. I want to return services to the citizens that they’ve come to expect.”

Last summer, when the council was considering what kind of fiscal proposal to present to voters, “I proposed a similar thing,” Herpin said.

Why five years? That amount of time likely would get the city through the recession and establish a new budget level for TABOR math purposes. Then city voters could have another bite of the apple, and they could decide to let it die, or change it somehow, or even extend it.

For the entire five years, they would not relinquish their right to vote on all tax increase measures.

According to Sam Mamet, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, 87 percent of the 508 de-TABORing measures in Colorado since 1992 have been approved. It’s not like Colorado Springs would be on the cutting edge of the movement.

Earlier this month, voters in Cañon City, Hudson, Paonia, Mt. Crested Butte and Silverthorne approved de-TABORing measures.

It’s true citizens are mad at City Hall and that played a role in the defeat of a property tax hike measure three weeks ago. Maybe with the passage of some time and the recognition that there have been deep cuts in city services, some voters might be receptive to the TABOR time-out.

This city is going to have to do something to stop the bleeding.

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