Most Colorado voters favor a ballot measure that would let the state hang onto surplus tax revenue for transportation and schools rather than refund it under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, a new poll shows.
The measure on the Nov. 5 ballot, Proposition CC, has support from 54% of the 500 voters surveyed by Magellan Strategies, a Republican-aligned firm based in Louisville.
An additional 30% of voters said they would vote no on CC, and 15% said they were undecided.
The ballot measure was read to those surveyed before they were asked their opinion.
Support for CC was much stronger among Democrats (72%) and unaffiliated voters (60%) than among Republicans (32%), according to the Magellan poll, whose results were released Wednesday.
Under TABOR, a constitutional amendment passed in 1992, the state is to refund to taxpayers revenue that exceeds certain caps, which are set by formulas adjusted for population growth and inflation.
The caps tend to kick in only in flush years, when state tax revenue rises above typical levels.
According to state economists’ unexpectedly rosy revenue forecasts in June, Colorado taxpayers could be eligible for TABOR refunds totaling up to $1.3 billion over the next three years.
The ballot measure’s wording could increase its likelihood of passing, because it doesn’t mention TABOR or specify how much money the state might keep, the pollsters said in a podcast.
The proposed amendment begins: “Without raising taxes and to better fund public schools, higher education and roads, bridges, and transit, within a balanced budget … ”
“This is some clever language,” Magellan CEO David Flaherty said.
“It matters how these questions are written,” said Ryan Winger, data analysis director for the firm, which routinely surveys voter opinion on tax questions for municipalities, school districts and special districts. If you’re telling me this isn’t going to raise taxes, you’ve already got my attention,” he added.
Flaherty noted that although most likely voters say they’ll vote for Prop. CC, its support falls bellow the level ballot measures typically need this far from an election.
“Even though support right now is at 54%, the old adage is: You really want any ballot measure in the state of Colorado at ‘yes’ being in the upper 50s or 60%,” Flaherty said.
With about two months to go before voters get their ballots in the mail, Winger said, both sides have a chance to make their case.
“This one’s right in that zone where the campaign for the next two months matters, right? What are the arguments for and against CC? It’s not so lopsided one or the other that it doesn’t happen what happens in the next two month. It does matter,” he said.
The Magellan pollsters found that 59% of respondents were at least somewhat familiar with TABOR, but only 20% were very familiar with the ballot measure.
“Among those who are very, somewhat or not too familiar, 46% have a favorable impression of TABOR while 36% have an unfavorable opinion and 18% don’t have an opinion,” Flaherty said in a report on the poll results.
The poll found that 47% of voters surveyed would favor an even broader measure than CC, allowing the state to retain and spend a tax surplus without stating a reason, versus 39% who would oppose such a measure.
Asked if they would oppose a full repeal of TABOR, though, only 36% said yes while 48% said no.
“We believe the survey findings validated a popular belief that the full repeal of TABOR, even in a presidential election cycle with significant unaffiliated and younger voter turnout, is unlikely,” Flaherty said in the report. “However, it remains to be seen if a well-funded voter education campaign to weaken or repeal TABOR would be effective.”
The Colorado Supreme Court ruled in June that a ballot measure to repeal TABOR, proposed by the Colorado Fiscal Institute, does not violate a constitutional provision limiting future ballot measures to one subject. But that measure has not advanced to the petitioning stage.
This month, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court and revived a 2011 lawsuit — filed by legislators and city, county and school district officials — to overturn TABOR. The officials argued that TABOR’s cap on taxing and spending violates the U.S. Constitution, which gives tax-setting power to a representative, or republican, form of government.
The legislation placing CC on the ballot says one-third of the retained revenue would go to K-12 schools, one-third to higher education and a third to transportation. The measure applies to tax revenue collected after June 30.
Under the measure, an “annual independent audit” would be conducted to “show how the retained revenues are spent.”
The Legislature’s Democratic leaders say CC is needed to fund vital education services and to make a dent in the state’s backlog of transportation improvement needs. Two measures that would have created ways to fund transportation failed in last November’s election, as did a new tax to fund schools.
But TABOR supporters say CC is an attempt to circumvent the will of voters who passed the amendment. They say the state should pay for services out of existing funds by making cuts elsewhere rather than tapping TABOR refunds. And they question whether the retained revenue would be spent on education and transportation, as stated.
Voters in many Colorado cities and counties have passed measures allowing them to retain TABOR tax refunds. Passage of such measures is called “de-Brucing” after TABOR’s author, tax activist and felon Douglas Bruce of Colorado Springs. But the state still must refund tax surpluses.
TABOR also requires that proposed tax increases and bond measures be submitted to voters.
Magellan surveyed 500 likely Colorado voters from Aug. 5 to 7. The margin of error is estimated at plus or minus 4.38%. The pollsters noted that the reported results are based on the turnout they’ve projected for this November’s off-year election, which probably will be older and more conservative than in elections held in even-numbered years.
Other survey findings :
“The primary reasons 46% of voters have a favorable opinion of the TABOR Amendment are: it is a check on government spending, holding elected officials accountable and requiring them to explain their spending decisions.”
“The primary reasons 36% of respondents have an unfavorable opinion of TABOR is the belief that the amendment has had a negative impact on adequate funding for public education, roads, transportation and other government services. They also believe TABOR is unnecessary because elections provide an opportunity for voters to remove elected officials that are unhappy with their spending decisions.”
“The component of TABOR that requires voter approval for tax increases and bond measures has strong support. Among all respondents, 62% support voter approval for tax increases, 26% oppose, and 12% were undecided.”