September 8, 2013
The question routinely asked in Colorado Springs is whether it's time to do away with our city's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which, by the way, predates the state version. Some critics call it redundancy. But my belief is that the city's version, while imperfect, continues to serve the taxpayers well. It's more needed now than ever, given the leftward lurch this state has taken.
Both city and state TABORs are viewed as a major nuisance by many politicos, and by the special interests always clamoring for more spending and bigger government. But that's just fine from this taxpayer's point of view. Is it in our interest, as citizens, to make it easier for politicos to pick our pockets? We've all seen what can happen when state and local governments are unshackled from restraint. And, while I don't agree with TABOR author Douglas Bruce that these laws were perfectly written, as if handed down from a burning bush, I do think, on balance, their taxpayer protections are worth keeping - well-worth keeping.
We're told a city TABOR is redundant because the state's TABOR will suffice. But for how much longer? Our state TABOR is under constant attack, either in court or by politicians, and it's only prudent to keep our city TABOR as an insurance policy, since these attacks are sure to escalate while free-spenders are politically dominant.
Although the law remains overwhelmingly popular with the people, who understand that it evens the odds against the spending lobby, such attacks on TABOR might one day succeed. A city TABOR could be what helps Colorado Springs stay more like Colorado, while the rest of the state goes California - on the brink of economic bankruptcy and collapse.
The supposed hassles the city faces in dealing with two TABORs are exaggerated. This city has successfully complied with both versions since the early 1990s. Guess what? There's not a single disaster to report. Surely the smart folks in city government have learned the ropes by now -and if they haven't, that's not the law's fault. A city has to work within its means - everyone else does. The convenience of government employees is a lesser priority for me than continued protections for you, the taxpayer. That argument is the lamest of all.
Although more legitimate questions have been raised about more technical aspects of TABOR, like the so-called ratchet effect, which allegedly hampers a return to "normal" government spending levels ("normal" meaning "upward" in the eyes of most politicos) after an economic downturn, there's a simple solution for that.
City leaders can go to the voters and request permission to keep funds that would otherwise be refunded, as TABOR requires. They've done it before. And such requests have been approved by voters when political leaders have make a compelling case for keeping the money.
The fact that they must ask permission, rather than just keep the extra money, is what makes this law a game-changer. It's beautiful, isn't it?
And savvy taxpayers shouldn't surrender that power and leverage without a fight.
Sean Paige is the deputy director of the Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity.