September 8, 2013
While the general public may hold the impression that TABOR protects their rights (and their pocketbooks) by restricting tax collections, this notion deserves another look. Service and infrastructure needs increase as cities grow. Basic upkeep of existing infrastructure is always ongoing and costly. TABOR has unduly restricted the ability of state, county, municipal government, and school districts to keep up with much-needed provisions.
Our revenue base is sales-tax dependent; economic downturns mean less spending, which translates directly into less money in government coffers. TABOR caps the amount that can be collected post-recession, prolonging recovery time and stunting the ability to provide basic needs - needs that do not slow with the economy. Roads, for example, are relatively cheap to repair and preserve when compared to the cost of delaying and "starting over" with a new road-bed, which carries a price tag many times that of repair.
The Colorado Springs community holds dear the idea that limited government is best; rarely do we approve tax increases. Many believe waste is rampant, and government entities can/have functioned despite recent "alarmist" calls for increased revenue. Our streetlights have been turned off, then on, and our parks have gone from brown to green. There also remain questions surrounding Olympic Training Center agreements, to say nothing of sizable outlays for stadium and power plant relocation studies. Herein lies the issue: voter (dis)trust. We've come to believe that TABOR is but one small victory over politicians who fail to frugally and effectively manage our money. We've "tuned out", dismissing pleas for increased revenue. Political scientists call this "voter fatigue", or "citizen disengagement". we "tune in" only when we hear of measures which further "protect" us from perceived government waste.
So, repealing TABOR feels like a step backward for those valuing limited government and a sensible, penny-wise approach to funding essential services, maintenance, and growth. But if we are to sustain what we have, we must give our elected leaders the ability to fund critical needs. This doesn't mean giving blank checks to our leaders - this, too, is a form of voter apathy. It means being a community intent upon understanding collective necessities -what community means in the first place.
I voluntarily serve on a number of citizen committees and can tell you: Many government employees care deeply about this community. They work hard to stretch every dollar you pay in taxes. We elect leaders to manage these workers and our money. Oversight of city leaders should come through elections and citizen involvement, not laws that widely restrict communities.
The sentiment of distrust behind TABOR has been heard. The TABOR approach guarantees that community needs cannot be met in the long run. We cannot take our wallets and go home, lamenting the lack of safe infrastructure and decent schools. Instead, we must stay engaged and educated, letting our leaders know what's important to us. A strong community comes from strong leadership, which comes from an engaged, educated citizenry. Or, we can sit idly by while our community erodes. It's not our leaders' choice - it's yours.
Amy Filipiak grew up here, is a parent, college geography instructor, and community volunteer.